Los Angeles Theater Review: STAGE KISS (Geffen)

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by Tony Frankel on April 24, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


A backstage comedy with more personalities than Sybil, Sarah Ruhl’s preposterous — and in some ways pretentious — 2011 play was apparently given a boffo treatment at Playwrights Horizon, San Francisco Playhouse, The Guthrie, and more. But not at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, where Stage Kiss had its World Premiere, and certainly not at the Geffen, where this misguided effort opened last week.


Ruhl’s plays — I’ve seen The Clean House, Passion Play, Eurydice, Dead Man’s Cell Phone — are apparently worthy of a MacArthur Fellowship, two Pulitzer Prize finalist nods, and a Tony Award nomination. I don’t get it. While I saw one of her plays that was wholly enjoyable (yet still problematic) — In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) — I don’t think time will be kind to Ms. Ruhl’s works. She seems to be in a constant state of experimentation without having offered a Renaissance in the art of playwriting.


Imagine love story, farce, sit com, rom com, magical realism, alternate universe, two plays-within-a-play, and more. Stage Kiss is a very dubious piece to start with. Ruhl is asking if actors can switch between fantasy and reality as it relates to their own love lives. Are they misguided by all the showy speeches they spew onstage, or are they better at navigating their own romances through artistic insight?


An audition, rehearsal, and performance in Act I give way to an Act II apartment where actors He (Barry Del Sherman) and She (Glenne Headly) carry out an affair; the real-life actors who played the stage actors in the first act also play people in the lives of He and She — including a husband, daughter, lover, and pimp (yeah, it goes there, too). Forget trying to figure it out.



This Stage Kiss may well be a metaphysical metatheatrical masterpiece, but under Bart DeLorenzo’s flabby direction, what might have been an uproarious farce ends up as an enervating dud and (the more I examine it) a senseless, angering mess.



There are moments which divert pleasantly, but once the novelty of the situation quickly wears off, there isn’t much here to justify the undercooked concept or the characters’ nonsensical zigzagging (like breaking out into “Some Enchanted Evening” while spotlit). Remembering her strengths from The Vibrator Play, I think Ruhl could have touched on some provocative ideas. But that was a rather straightforward play compared to her other works. Here, she creates a razor’s edge that slices the chance for romance or comedy.


At the head of the ridiculously miscast class is Glenne Headly, best-known from the film Dick Tracy; whenever I watch her, she always seems to have graduated from the Georgia Engel school of distinctive-but-one-note acting. Here, she has the task of playing a civilian who hardly ever acts, an actress in a play, and the play’s character in both rehearsal and performance. According to The Director (Tim Bagley), she’s a wonderful performer. Problem is, we never see her perform wonderfully. Her odd demeanor suits the actress auditioning for some sort of regional theater, but once she gets the part, it seems the rest of the cast-within-the-cast would be shocked at her lousy performance. Was her lack of differentiation intentional?


Indeed, most of the actors seemed like they were supposed to be acting poorly in a poorly written play in community theater. (And poor Stephen Caffrey, one of my favorite actors, was positively floundering as the on- and offstage husband.) But if this is community theater, where the hell did they get the money for those lavish sets? I don’t get it. Neither does Mr. DeLorenzo.


org_img_1461264915_L-IMG_0576photos by Jeff Lorch Photography

Stage Kiss
Gil Cates Theater
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave
ends on May 15, 2016
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John, a.k.a. Disgruntled April 27, 2016 at 6:08 am

“Enervating dud” sums it up perfectly. This production has no reason to be. A complete waste of time.


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