Goodman Theatre World Premiere of Sarah Ruhl's 'Stage Kiss': A Lesson in Chemistry.

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(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 credit: Liz Lauren.

Chicago, Thursday, May 19, 2011. Simply put, '"Stage Kiss", examines the difference between real life and pretend through a kiss--actually many kisses.  In this case, eight kisses a performance, nine performances a week coming out to roughly 72 kisses (a week)--not counting rehearsals.  For actors, kissing is all in a day's work.  But is it work? Can an actor pretend passion but no feel passion?

To get to the root of what Ruhl calls "The great lie of the theater--pretending to be something you're not in front of other people who are watching"--aka, the audience--she has created a play within a play using a variety of devices to explore this question including a gay actor and an ex-lover.

"Stage Kiss" gets off to a promising start in a hilarious scene with She (Jenny Bacon), a forty something actress who has returned to the stage, after a stint as a stay-at-home mom, auditioning for a part in a long-forgotten 1930's melodrama, 'Last Kiss'. The way Bacon manipulates her amazingly flexible body in interpreting Ruhl's script is pure genius. Ross Lehman as the director, who hires She (Bacon) as his leading lady, is the perfect straight man to her antics.  

The plot continues on a high note as She discovers that her leading man, He (Mark L. Montgomery), is her real-life ex-lover from 20 years ago.  Real life intersects with pretend as He and She rekindle the embers of their past relationship on stage despite the haunting presence of He's girlfriend, (Erica Elam) and She's devoted husband Harrison, played by the perfectly cast Scott Jareck. She and hubby Harrison's outspoken 16-year-old daughter, Millie, brilliantly portrayed by Sarah Tolan-Mee brings the story back to reality. Jeffery Carlson, as Kevin, a young gay actor, cast as the understudy to 'He', stumbles though some awkwardly funny attempts at passion. Todd Rosenthal's set design does a beautiful job separating and representing the real from the pretend aspects of Ruhl's play.

I wanted to fall in love with 'Stage Kiss' but, at this point, it is not the well-oiled machine that I believe it has the potential to become. It is a bit uneven and unwieldy.  I like the premise, I like the dialogue; there are some great one-liners and a solid cast. There is a rolling wave of laughter that ripples throughout the audience as they watch the show--making "Stage Kiss" an enjoyable theatrical experience even with some imperfections.

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Taylor and Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf".

The question Ruhl explores in "Stage Kiss" is an age old question that actors must struggle with as part of their job.  We all have been witness to stage and film passions that boil over into "real life" marriages and relationships from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (met on-stage in 1966 "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"); to Ben Stiller and Christian Taylor (met on the set of "Heat Vision and Jack" in 1999 and are still together); to Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (met in the filming of the 1991 "Bugsy", married in 1992 and still together)--but what is the reality? The question that we and the play must examine is: "Are play-acting and real life, so different"?

Tickets and Information.
"Stage Kiss" runs through June 5, 2011 in the Goodman's Albert Theatre; tickets are $25 through $78. They may be purchased at the box office at 170 N. Dearborn or by phone at 312 443 3800 or online at GoodmanTheatre.org.

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