Review: Stage Kiss (Goodman Theatre)

     
     

Cheap laughs mark time in Ruhl’s surface-skimming romantic fantasy

     
     

HE (Mark L. Montgomery) and SHE (Jenny Bacon) get lost in one another’s embrace as they perform as Johnny Lowell and Ada Wilcox in One Last Kiss -- the play-within-the-play.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

  
Goodman Theatre presents
  
     
Stage Kiss
    
   
Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Jessica Thebus
at Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $17-$69   |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Goodman Theatre and Sarah Ruhl have shared a fruitful relationship dating back to her 2006 The Clean House. Stage Kiss marks the MacArthur Fellowship winning playwright’s third production and first commission with the company, and with that, it may be time for Ruhl to reevaluate the details of that partnership. A two-year development process has yielded thin, runny results.

SHE’s daughter, Angela (Sarah Tolan-Mee), arrives at Laurie (Erica Elam)’s apartment to take her mother home.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)“What happens when lovers share a stage kiss…or actors share a real one?” Worthy question. Ruhl is a capable author to study it, too, having asserted her lyrical style and poignant insight into her characters’ romantic needs in previous, stronger works. This new play’s premise gets short shrift to accommodate Noises Off!-type metatheatrical slapstick silliness. If only Ruhl or director Jessica Thebus were more dedicated to exploring their substantial central theme, we’d be provided a better answer than ‘they fall down and go oomph.’

They also apparently seek refuge by escaping their own play, addressing the audience directly through occasional poetic spurts and barely integrated speeches. Stage Kiss’ most thoughtful moments are presented less as theater and more like essays. The nameless protagonist’s (Jenny Bacon) daughter (Sarah Tolan-Mee) ponders aloud why talented actors don’t seem to frown upon sleeping with talentless ones while, on the other hand, good painters seldom seem to sleep with bad painters. Elsewhere, a character articulates the difference between watching sex on film and sex on stage. Those interesting ideas are well phrased, but they come from Ruhl, not her characters. Action is totally halted during the speeches–just show us. Don’t tell.

     
Johnny Lowell (Mark L. Montgomery) meets Millicent (Erica Elam) in a scene from One Last Kiss.  (Photo: Liz Lauren) (l to r) Ada Wilcox (Jenny Bacon) and her Husband (Scott Jaeck) realize their daughter (Sarah Tolan-Mee) has run away with Johnny Lowell (Mark L. Montgomery) in a scene from One Last Kiss. (Photo: Liz Lauren)
(l to r) HE (Mark L. Montgomery), Laurie (Erica Elam), SHE (Jenny Bacon) and Harrison (Scott Jaeck) dance with one another to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening.”  (Photo: Liz Lauren) (clockwise l to r) The cast of One Last Kiss (Jeffrey Carlson, Erica Elam, Sarah Tolan-Mee, Scott Jaeck, Jenny Bacon and Mark L. Montgomery) sits around the table as the director (Ross Lehman) speaks to them at first rehearsal.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Most of the two and half hours are instead spent satirizing the rehearsal process of a 1930’s Noël Coward-style play revival in which the married woman has been cast opposite her ex-lover (Mark L. Montgomery). The play-within-a-play jokes are decent enough, sometimes original and funny (“Why is everyone in this play named Millicent?”), but mostly easy and worn-thin. Ross Lehman is underplayed and hilarious as the production’s passive director, the all-too-familiar type that masks incompetence with friendliness. Pretending to be a bad actor is akin to pretending to be drunk; resisting temptations to exaggerate is probably for the best. The otherwise gifted Jeffrey Carlson does not and goes for broke as a gay, (potentially mentally disabled?) barely functioning bit-actor.

Decency doesn’t carry a show–once the novelty of the physical humor and accent-play wears off, there’s little else fleshed out to justify ludicrous character twists or the underdeveloped concept. Had Ruhl lived up to her potential and played to her strengths, she could have touched on some provocative ideas. Stage Kiss draws too thick of a line between romance and comedy for either to flourish.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

(center) Laurie (Erica Elam) confronts (l to r) HE (Mark L. Montgomery) and SHE (Jenny Bacon) as SHE’s daughter Angela (Sarah Tolan-Mee) and husband Harrison (Scott Jaeck) look on. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Stage Kiss runs approximately two hours, 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

     

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REVIEW: Almost, Maine (The Gift Theatre)

Gift Theatre creates a real charm offensive

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The Gift Theatre presents:

Almost, Maine

 [a special dinner/theatre event]

by John Cariani
directed by Barlag, Belcuore, Blandford, Branham, Dibo, Gawlik, and Jones
featuring: Dan Aho, Burfete, DiNicola, Emmons, Jim Farruggio, Ed Flynn, Aemilia Scott, Justine Serino, and Kyle Zornes
through February 21st
(more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Much about John Cariani’s play, Almost, Maine, mirrors Jules Feiffer’s 1977 play Hold Me!  Both are collections of light, comical sketches regarding the uncertainties of the human heart. The essential difference between them is that the poignant neuroticism of Feiffer’s work grounds itself in the daily struggles of urban—okay, New York City—existence, while John Cariani situates his characters in the benignly rural and utterly imaginary location of Almost, Maine.

securedownload So, Fieffer’s characters fret, not only over their past or latest or lack of personal relationships, but also the political and social uneasiness of their times. By contrast, Cariani’s small town residents exist far, far, far away; not just from anything resembling everyday concerns—quite a thing to think about in a play emerging from 2004—but also reality itself. All the struggles of falling in and out of love dominate the minds of Almost’s inhabitants as if there were nothing else going on in the world. Moreover, the play steps further from reality in the literal use of sight gags based on our clichéd idioms about love.

All of which would be a treacly mess in less proficient hands. But Gift Theatre Company’s numerous directors and actors demonstrate a delicate, persistent care for the material, eliciting every critical ounce of human sympathy from the moment. The pain of abandonment or loss receives the wry and gentle touch called for by the text. Humor is almost born, not from the lines, but in the space between the lines as characters contend with what direction to go in the pursuit of romance. In the process, Capriani’s deeper wit about the precariousness of creating or preserving love shines through. It’s a magical place, Almost, Maine—but magical places can be as dangerous as the real ones. Almost is fraught with the possibility of losing one’s big chance at love, even when it is staring you in the face.

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Since the play has such a short run—and only for benefit purposes–GTC hadn’t planned to have it reviewed. Too bad, they’re getting a good review anyway. At the very least, Almost, Maine is a real charm offensive, a solid showcase for cast and crew. Plus, if it’s perfectly timed to be “date theater” for the masses this Valentine’s Day, at least it’s a work about love that both is and is not about the happy ending.

 

Rating: ★★★

 


THE DINNER:

A four course Northeastern Seafood Dinner For Two @

The Gale Street Inn

  • Crabcake Appetizer
  • New England Chowder
  • Lobster And Mussel Clam Bake For Two
  • Cranberry Cheesecake

Production and dinner are only available as a coupled event:

“The Seafood Duet”
A Very Special Event Generously Sponsored by The Gale Street Inn
To Benefit The Gift Theatre Company

Dinner For Two at Gale Street Inn + Tickets for Two to The Gift = $75.

A Value of $60 for Your Meal + A Value of $50 for Your Tickets = Sweet!
Tax, Tip, Beverage Not Included.
A Non-Seafood Substitute Menu Will Be Available Upon Request.
Sorry, No Refunds.  Exchanges Subject to Seating Availability.

Please give yourselves plenty of time to savor and enjoy your meal before the show! Patrons also enjoy the freedom to park their car in Gale Street’s lot!

For Evening Performances:
Please plan on being seated at Gale Street by 6:00pm and no later than 6:30pm.

For Matinee Performances:
Dinner served after the show starting around 4:30pm.
Before the show, please plan on being seated by 1:00pm.

As a courtesy to you, the audience, and the actors, there is no late seating at The Gift.

For tickets call (773) 283-7071, or
BUY ONLINE!
View Reservation Policies