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Toward the end of Craig Lucas’s 1990 play, Prelude to a Kiss, the character known as Old Man recites a litany of life’s highlights from cradle to grave. Or, rather, life’s lowlights, since the list reveals that almost everyone, whether rich or poor, can be reduced to the same birth-marriage-children-death formula.
The speech, delivered by John Mahoney, was the only moment in this Roundabout Theatre revival that drew me in utterly to Lucas’s world. Otherwise, Dan Sullivan’s production insufficiently mined the script’s comedy – the laughs that should serve to throw into bolder relief the story’s sadness.
Holding in balance all the emotional aspects of Lucas’s world is a challenge, which may be why I tend to enjoy reading this writer’s work more than seeing it staged or brought to the screen. No production ever quite does justice to his blend of fantasy and heartache, or to the startling ideas that, in an underappreciated work like God’s Heart, propel the narrative.
Kiss is part of Lucas’s unofficial window trilogy (Reckless and Blue Window being the other pieces), plays in which characters zip away from the confines of reality into a fable-like starry night. The window-and-stars image forms a main stage picture here, with Santo Loquasto’s set a model of space defined by blue light and metal beams.
A fractured fairy tale, Kiss presents a New York couple, Rita and Peter, who marry after a whirlwind courtship. When the illness-ridden Old Man turns up at their New Jersey wedding, and plants a kiss on Rita, his soul and hers exchange places. Peter is thrown into a state of emotional and moral confusion.
Restoring these characters to their original selves requires extraordinary deftness on the part of the actors. Most productions err on the side of whimsy; this one sags because of its seriousness. As Peter, Alan Tudyk is affecting in a wounded-puppy sort of way, while Annie Parisse’s transition between Rita’s characters lacks demarcation. Only in Mahoney’s deft old-pro characterisation do we fully glimpse what might have been.
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