Tepid Passion in Stage Kiss

Despite what the timeless song says, sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss. Sometimes a kiss stirs up memories, emotions, and things that have no place coming to light again. That’s the heart of Stage Kiss, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company now to April 24.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s examination of what happens when lips lock is one of those farcical “plays within a play” where actors are playing actors and then they act out. In this case, He (Guy Balotine) and She (Tracie Lane) are ex-lovers who – after a lengthy interval – find themselves playing lovers onstage in a stilted 1930s revival of a show called “The Last Kiss.” She had left the boards to raise her daughter. He is a rather hapless sort who hasn’t figured out how to grow as an actor or a person. Their stage kiss leads them back into each other’s orbit to the shock of She’s husband (Rolando Gomez) and the dismay of their teen daughter (Christine Turturro). He has a partner, too, sweetly played by Marisa Caruso who briefly tumbles into the arms of She’s jilted husband. The only one who appears to be winning is the Director of “The Last Kiss” (Greg Howze) who moves on to write a play that’s perfect for He and She’s encore performance far off in Detroit. The twist is that this production proves their stage kiss is just a folly and – as in all good rom-coms – true love will prevail.

I didn’t enjoy this production nearly as much as I did the Shaw Festival’s production of it back in 2018. Even under Fortunato Pezzimenti’s skillful direction, the story dragged and felt sloggy. Paul Bostaph’s set captured “The Last Kiss” low budget ethos well enough, as well as He’s grungy apartment. Lane and Balotine – fine and accomplished actors as they are – didn’t seem to connect convincingly in their roles and their conversations felt stilted and over-articulated.  Two bright spots were Gomez as the husband: he was charming and cunning in a good way, and Turturro as She and Husband’s daughter Angela. Turturro’s Angela was the perfect specimen of teen wisdom (not unlike her 2019 role in Road Less Traveled Productions’ The Undeniable Sound of Right Now.) In one breath she is expounding her thoughts on real love and commitment and in one moment she’s content to munch a PB&J sandwich.

I did enjoy that little bit of whimsy that closed the show: in a nod to Fox sitcom Call Me Kat, the cast danced their curtain call to the iconic Prince tune “Kiss,” performed lounge-act-style by…wait for it…Tom Jones, I think. I seriously loved Gomez’s jubilant bell kick as he leapt from the stage.

Stage Kiss runs an interminable two hours with a 10-minute intermission. I love that ICTC still has a mask and vax policy in place. Thank them when you order your tickets at www.irishclassical.com.