By the end of Stage Kiss, the man and the woman have kissed 288 times. This is according to the woman’s husband, who is a banker and loves numbers, and has not been in on the kissing.
In Sarah Ruhl’s amusing, convoluted play – which is anything but by the numbers, managing to combine broad slapstick, melodrama, mock-kitchen sink realism, a loving backstage farce, and a romantic comedy with actual insights into love — the unmarried couple kiss in three different ways:
They kiss in a play-within-the-play, a revival of a hilariously awful melodrama from the 1930’s in which the two portray former lovers reunited after she learns that she has only a month to live, and she asks her husband to fetch her former lover from Sweden, where he’s creating a large sculpture.
They kiss as the unnamed actors playing those two characters – who are themselves bitter former lovers, who didn’t know they had been cast in the roles as former lovers. As they kiss, their attitude towards each other…changes. “When I kissed you just now, did it feel like an actor kissing an actor or a person kissing a person? Because I’ve kissed you so many times over the last few weeks, I’m starting to not know the difference.”
And then they kiss as the actors playing the actors. The priceless Jessica Hecht, who was amazing when last on Broadway in The Assembled Parties, plays it both scatter-brained and sober, straight and comical — both credible and hilarious. The manly Dominic Fumusa, who plays Edie Falco’s ex-husband in Nurse Jackie, turns out to share Hecht’s gift for comedy.
They are not the only ones. Under the sharp direction of Rebecca Taichman, the whole eight-member cast, including several playing multiple roles, shine, getting laughs without seeming to try. A particular stand-out is the grim, low-key director portrayed by Patrick Kerr. The couple are not even the only ones kissing. Fumusa’s character hurts his ankle, and so the actress must undergo awkward kisses by the gay understudy Kevin, who looks as if he’s trying to bite at her face (Michael Cyril Creighton, whose amusing mastery of the goofy pose recalls One Man, Two Guvnor’s James Corden)
Ruhl, a MacArthur genius whose whimsical touch and fanciful endings have left me less than charmed in the past, here manages a twist that doesn’t feel tagged on. If the ending arrives a little later than I might have wished — as the actors themselves point out, it is not as pleasurable watching marathon smooching on stage as it might be on film — “Stage Kiss” ends up both clever and something approaching profound.
By Sarah Ruhl; directed by Rebecca Taichman; sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Susan Hilferty; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Matt Hubbs; choreography by Sam Pinkleton; music by Todd Almond.
Cast: Todd Almond (the Accompanist), Clea Alsip (Millicent/Laurie), Michael Cyril Creighton (Kevin/Butler/Doctor/Pimp), Dominic Fumusa (He), Emma Galvin (Angela/Millie/Maid), Jessica Hecht (She), Daniel Jenkins (the Husband) and Patrick Kerr (the Director).
Running time: two hours including intermission
Stage Kiss is scheduled to run through March 23
Update: Stage Kiss has been extended until April 6, 2014