In Sarah Ruhl’s latest play, Stage Kiss (directed by Jessica Thebus),two ex-lovers are thrust together after not having seen each other for two decades, when they both audition for -- and get a starring role in -- a long-forgotten 1930s melodrama, One Last Kiss. In the play, She (Jenny Bacon) is cast as an upper-class woman, Ada, who has her true love, Johnny (played by He), re-enter her life. While they initially attempt to keep their relationship a strictly professional one, it quickly becomes clear that given their history, and the parallels that exist between the storyline of One Last Kiss and their own lives -- which is precisely what contributes to this blurring of the line between stage and reality -- that this will not be an easy task.
Soon enough their professional relationship becomes a romantic one. In short order He leaves his girlfriend, Laurie (Erica Elam), and She leaves her husband (Scott Jaeck) and her teenage daughter, Angela (Sarah Tolan-Mee), so that they may be together and rekindle that romance that they (perceive) they once shared.
While their relationship starts off well enough, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that for all the good times they reminisced over, their relationship was not quite as perfect as they chose to remember it. In fact, they realize, their real relationship and the idealized or romanticized version that they made up in their minds differ greatly. In truth, when they were together as twenty-somethings, they had many fights, many of them rather serious. Theirs was ultimately a toxic relationship, which is why she chose to leave him all those years ago.
It is once She recognizes this that she seems to come to the realization that she has been chasing after something that never really existed between the two of them and never would, ignoring (it could be argued) that which she had with her husband, a mature relationship. She grew up and had a family, while for He time seemingly stood still. He is, as She says, a Peter Pan-type, refusing to grow up. Upon realizing this, She begins to miss her husband, something she admits to him, and wants to go back to her old life, to her husband and daughter.
It is interesting to note, as was alluded to in the Goodman’s own publication, OnStage, how much the relationship between He and She affect their performance in One Last Kiss. Watching them it is obvious that what goes on offstage impacts what they do onstage. At first, when they find out who has been cast opposite them, those intimate scenes seem extremely awkward.
As a more intense, intimate relationship between them develops offstage, those scenes become much more intense. At one point he even tells her that he’s more worried about kissing offstage than on, since onstage there’s someone to direct them and tell them when to stop. As their relationship begins to fall apart, those scenes become even more awkward than they were initially, to the extent that She threatens to leave the play. Ultimately she doesn’t, but does refuse to act, which leads to some pretty hilarious improvisation in the play within the play.
Personally, I cannot recommend this production highly enough. Stage Kiss is an absorbing study of identity and relationships, one full of wit, wisdom, and insightful observations -- and is one of those shows that is a must-see.
Stage Kiss is currently running at the Goodman Theatre (in the Albert Theatre) through June 5, 2011. Showtimes are as follows: Sundays at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM (except no 7:30 PM on Sunday, May 29th), Tuesdays at 7:30 PM (no performances on May 3 and May 10), Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM (except no 2:00 PM on May 5 and June 2), Fridays at 8:00 PM, and Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM (except no 2:00 PM on April 30 and May 14, and no performances all day on May 21st). Post-show discussions with members of the Goodman’s artistic staff and the cast take place after performances on Wednesdays and Thursdays. There is no charge to attend post-show discussions and no reservations are required.
For the most current performance dates and times, to find out more about the production, or to purchase tickets, please visit the Goodman Theatre website, www.goodmantheatre.org. To purchase tickets by phone, call the box office at 312-443-3800. Group tickets for 10 persons or more are also available by calling 312-443-3820. The Goodman Theatre is located at 170 N. Dearborn St. in Chicago.
Photos: Liz Lauren