Happy Days are Here Again rubs up uneasily against a brick wall in the opening seconds of Stage Kiss, leaving questions in the back of your mind. Layering like that makes Stage Kiss an intelligent romantic comedy. Thanks to Susi Damiliano’s stage direction, this unpacks itself slowly – and even bears a second viewing, if only to catch the bits you missed because you were too busy enjoying it the first time.
The other big draw with this gem is the cast. Carrie Paff’s luminous combo of strength and fragility elevates what could easily be just a bit of silliness (and it is very silly). She and Gabriel Marin (named She and He, appropriately enough) navigate the boundaries between on-stage and off-stage romance, the real and the unreal. Marin, who often appears in hopelessly sincere, but clueless guy roles, nails it here.
Set design by Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott works the same magic as the script.
While the surface of this thing is incredibly enjoyable and goes down easily, don’t let the gratification factor stop you from raising questions. For example, Michael Gene Sullivan’s performance in the first act certainly raised questions as Sullivan seems stuck in a boxed-in performance that smacks more, at least stylistically, of some of his work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. You wonder why because he’s far too gifted an actor (and Damiliano too good a director) for this to be an accident. Keep those questions in mind because when the answer comes in Act II, it will make your heart go all thumpa-thump.
Set design by Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott works the same magic as the script. The set of act I, an unremarkable rehearsal hall seems understated, until you realize the whole thing is mounted on a turntable.
You don’t have to be familiar with yelling, “Where’s the duck tape? Where’s the Stage Manager?” or even have pondered how good actors can have sex with bad actors (an issue raised by He when debating stage kiss vs screen sex) to delight in this well-paced wonder. Perfect for the holidays.
Stage Kiss runs through January 9th.
Photos by Jessica Palopoli