Over the course of its runtime, Stage Kiss breaks the fourth wall often and on purpose.
Self-reflexivity is a deeply established mainstay in theater, and when done right it works through its translucent layers to establish deeper self-awareness of the work.
Stage Kiss, written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Zeina Salame, utilizes its overtly meta-narrative structure to a wonderful extent through the compounding of realism and over-the-top theatricality. The first half of Stage Kiss has players performing with maximum theatricality in a 1930’s melodrama, itself a play within a play. What would usually warrant guffaws from the audience instead sanctioned hordes of laughter.
The characters He (TJ LaGrow) and She (Anna Klos) land roles in this bombastic period piece, concerning a sculptor who escapes to Sweden, a sudden terminal illness, and much romantic swapping along the way.
Turns out the two leads used to be lovers, and this disposition turns out to alter their performances in quite a persuasive way. The play’s latter half focuses on the pair’s intermingled lives afterwards, and without saying too much they are asked by the play’s director to lead in her next project, this time an original amalgamation of some familiar tropes of drama. This was the most amusing segment of Stage Kiss, as the project fuses absurd the plotlines of an IRA gun-peddler, a Brooklyn-accented prostitute, and, to top it all off, an utterly archetypal pimp.
You’d think that the constant laying siege to the fourth wall would get bothersome, yet it works all the way through, assisted by the skillful actors’ complete devotion. Every role is brilliantly cast, but LaGrow and Riley Mulvihill as the Husband/Harrison stood out from the rest. They can act, sing, romp around speaking grandiloquent, tongue-in-cheek lines, the whole nine yards. Director Zeina Salome stages her actors with dynamic zeal: they are constantly doing independent tasks and rushing around all areas of the stage, including hopping over the apron and romping through the house.
In the play’s handbill, Salame writes, “Stage Kiss weaves romantic comedy with postmodernism… It offers a relatable story while also challenging its characters, its makers, and its witnesses to ask: What is real?” Through the play’s barrage of theatrical references, philosophical musings on sexuality in film versus theatre, plus the constantly uproarious dialogue, the latest production of University Theatre is sure to have something for everybody.
Stage Kiss runs through May 7, 2016.