Monday, August 06, 2018

Farcical “Stage Kiss” entertains a little at The Shaw

“I am an advocate for state illusion; stage realism is a contradiction in terms (G. Bernard Shaw)

Sarah Ruhl, an American playwright and essayist, and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is noted for creating vivid theatrical works.  She tends to center on the mundane aspects of daily life, with side trips into love and war.

She is noted for setting up plot lines and using a nonlinear form of realism, throw in “curve balls,” surprises, plot twists and complications.  She once said of her writing, "Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They're pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions. Catharsis isn't a wound being excavated from childhood.”

“Stage Kiss,” a farcical tale of what happens when two actors (He and She), who were former lovers, are forced to share a stage kiss, with unforeseen consequences.  The line between reality and stage pretense soon blur.  It is a play within a play and is typical Ruhl.   

The story concerns He and She, who meet again, after many years of separation, to perform in a badly written 1930s melodrama.  They take up where they left off decades earlier with life-changing consequences.  Or, what could be life changing consequences.  She leaves her husband and surly daughter.  He dumps his kindergarten-teacher girlfriend, who moves in with She’s husband.  The reality of the past hits as the duo rehearse yet another bad play, this one about a hooker and an IRS operative.  He and She realize that their past history was probably right and they move beyond their “stage kiss” and face reality!

The show, under the directorship of Anita Rochon, is quite adequate, but misses being the hysterically funny illusion that it could be.  Part of the issue is that the farcical aspects of Ruhl’s are not fully developed.

The cast, (Fiona Byrne (She), Neil Barclay (Director), Jeff meadows (Kevin), Martin Happer (He), Sanjay Talwar (Husband), Sarena Parmar (Millie), and Rong Fu (Millicent) just doesn’t ever get the needed realistic, over-done aspects that make farce work.  The ridiculous has to come from the difficult balance of being overly sincere, realistically false, and making the characters bigger than life while not making them over-blown.  

Capsule judgment:  Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine.