Like a flower crying for the dew
That was my heart serenading you
My prelude to a kiss”
These are the lyrics which Duke Ellington wrote as the first stanza to his 1938 torch song, “Prelude to a Kiss.” It is this song which supposedly inspired Craig Lucas to write and title his romantic comedy of the same name.
Lucas’s 1988 script, which has been critically dubbed, “a whimsically inept piece of high kitsch—a TWILIGHT ZONE for yuppie soft-heads” and was credited as being “packed with cheap sentiment and puerile romanticism,” also was dubbed, “a charming sentimental fable about the importance of loving the essence of a human being, not the package it happens to come in.” Yes, that’s the kind of script and production which will probably engender a variety of reactions to viewers of the present staging at Ensemble Theatre.
PRELUDE TO A KISS basically tells the story of a pessimistic, liberal, free-spirited young lady who earns her living as a bartender, who meets a conservative manager of a Chicago scientific publishing house. They quickly fall in love, get married, kiss to affirm their wedding bows, and are confronted by a series of bizarre events after an old man kisses the new bride.
While on their honeymoon, husband, Peter, begins to feel that new wife, Rita, is not the same person that he married. As the tale unfolds, the author leads the audience down a supernatural path that includes the Old Man and Kelly having switched personas. In other words, Rita is now inside the Old Man’s body, and he in hers.
The assumption was made at the time the play was first presented that there was more to the story than Lucas examining whether the strength of commitment to each other can survive drastic changes to a person.
To understand this premise, it must be realized that when Lucas wrote the play, the AIDS epidemic was in full rage with no definitive knowledge of its cause or how it was being passed on.
To some, the act of love/sex, including maybe even kissing, was changing people. The young were becoming old before the eyes of the onlookers. Would these physical changes make for bonding changes? As one critic stated, “So while it ends as fairy tales tend to, PRELUDE TO A KISS is steeped in the ache of loss and sorrowful awareness that life’s joys can be as fleeting as its grief are unavoidable.”
In light of present day circumstances, the play is most likely to be regarded as an examination of the limits of love and the meaning of obligation to one another.
The play starred Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker in its well-received off-Broadway staging and Timothy Hutton and Parker in its 440-performance Broadway run. It was nominated for a best play Tony Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. A generally negatively reviewed movie version starred Baldwin and Meg Ryan.
The Ensemble production, under the direction of Martin Friedman, is a rather neutral experience. The play hasn’t worn well over time. With the AIDS issue generally under control, the writer’s underlying message is no longer relevant. The concept of a kiss causing a cosmic bodily exchange is hard, even in this era of vampire, werewolf and supernatural movies and television shows, for realists to accept.
Nothing is wrong with the production, but nothing is really compelling. There is a leisurely pace, the acting is acceptable, the musical interludes pleasant, the projections place the settings, move the storyline along.
Aaron Elersich gives a nice interpretation to Peter. Cute Kelly Strand, though perfectly acceptable, could have been more quirky and dynamic as Rita. There was little performance evidence of her change from youthful malcontent to dying old man.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble Theatre’s PRELUDE TO A KISS is one of those plays and productions, that while a perfectly acceptable evening of theatre, quickly fades from memory.
PRELUDE TO A KISS runs Thursdays through Sundays through December 15, 2012, at Ensemble Theatre, housed in Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights. For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org
To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to: clevelandtheaterreviews.com