by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Courtney O’Connor
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square area, Boston
February 24 – March 26, 2017
Scenic Design: Matt Whiton; Costume Design: Amanda Mujica; Sound Design and Original Music: Arshan Gailus
With Celeste Oliva (She), Alexander Platt (He), Will McGarrahan (Adrian Schwalbach), Michael Hisamoto (Kevin, Craig Mathers (Husband), Theresa Nguyen (Maid, Mille/Angela), Gillian Mackay-Smith (Millicent, Laurie)
Photo: Mark S. Howard
After a long separation from the theater, She (Celeste Oliva) tries out for a part, gets it, and soon discovers that her romantic counterpart in the play is He (Alexander Platt), someone she has known very well. The process of working on the play rekindles issues and energies from the past, requiring both She and He to reassess where they have come and where they are going. Entering into the complexities are She’s husband, her teenage daughter (Theresa Nguyen) and He’s girlfriend (Gillian Mackay-Smith).
In 1982, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing explored the relationship between a dramatic world and the real one in which it was couched and, in many ways, set the tone for modern comic dramas which play off the same theme. Stage Kiss, in that lineage, poses the problem slightly differently by making the stars of the play within the play old lovers and giving them the opportunity, through the drama, to, in some way, re-experience the past. Ruhl’s final clever series of twists poses a further variation on the theme and makes the gymnastics of the theatrical life ever more vivid and mercurial while counterposing it with the very real contexts which envelop it.
The writing of the narrative, especially of this twist in the denouement, is inventive. Though, in the final scene, it gets played out with a little too much breath, its motivating idea is inspired.
Though, on the surface, the play seems fairly straightforward, the script, according to artistic director Spiro Veloudos, is elusive in many ways, not specifying at all points whether dialogue is in the play itself in the world of the play withing the play. Courtney O’Connor’s cogent direction makes that distinction mostly transparent to the audience and gives a clear sense of what’s going, except in the particular instances in which the ambiguity is truly intentional.
The exploration of the way in which theatrical motifs inspire action in the real world yet don’t quite test the durability of the action undertaken provides the meat here. Art inspires in many ways but does provide the durable habits of life. But, as is called forth in the play’s coda, it is often a necessary addition to those durable habits to enable them to feel free.
Celeste Oliva is a continual marvel, animating her roles with a complex vivacity and mature sensuality that makes her characters magnetic. In a completely different kind of role, as a drone pilot in Grounded at the Central Square Theater a few years ago, she was also magnetic, and a bit terrifying. She conveys at once a powerful self-possession and a wound-up energy that makes for intense and captivating portrayals.
Here, in the initial audition scene, she bounces off the wall and totally terrific in her discombobulation. And, at the same time, when having a final discussion with her husband, played with steadfast nobility by Craig Mathers, she is heartbreaking.
Alexander Platt, as the old lover and the new onstage flame, is dashing as thespian and regular guy, making his chemistry with Celeste Oliva’s She work believably.
Michael Hisamoto, as the understudy and add-on character, is very funny in a goofy way, and Theresa Nguyen as the daughter, and Gillian Mackay-Smith as the girlfriend, add, employing relatively few words, a good deal of dimension. As the director within the play, the reliably authoritative and effervescent Will McGarrahan does a fine job of keeping it together.
The sets by Matt Whiton are multilayered and cleverly designed. The costumes by Amanda Mujica are colorful and fun. The music and sound design by Arshan Gailus is energetic and stimulating, and the jazzy medley he puts together for the entr’acte is lively and inspired.