AN INVENTIVE PRODUCTION OF CRAIG LUCAS “PRELUDE TO A KISS”

 

It’s been a long time since I have seen Craig Lucas romantic fairy tale the first time being the original production at the Circle Rep Company in the spring of 1990 with Alec Baldwin and Mary Louise Parker in the lead. Later I saw the SF Playhouse production with Lauren English as Rita and Joe Bellan as the Old Man.

 

“Prelude to a Kiss” is an inventive, sometimes-precarious blend of fairy-tale fancy and existential angst.  When it first premiered in New York it was widely presumed to be an oblique response to the ravages of AIDS. The playwright was writing at the end of a decade in which AIDS had emaciated the gay population.  Young men were almost factually turning into old men overnight as the disease ran its unyielding course largely uncheck by medicine.

 

The story lasting charm is a boy meets girl love story at the start of the two hour play. At the marriage ceremony an elderly man bestows on the bride a nuptial kiss. That fateful lip lock causes the bride and the old man to switch souls.  The big transformation is done with smart economy. A woozy moment, looks of shock on the faces of Old Man and the bride suddenly it becomes clear the two have transferred souls. The fallout of this is limned in funny scenes from a honeymoon in Jamaica with the groom growing increasingly suspicious and desperate about his new wife.

 

“Prelude” does have plenty of humor and a measure of melodiousness also from the groom painful discovery that the soul of the comely young woman he fell in love with now inhabits a fast-decaying body of an old man.  Wonderful truths coming out from the Old Man when he is in the brides body such as “This time I would floss, but he cautions the young couple “If you live long enough, you get to see everybody die….so we might as well have a good time while we’re here”.

 

Nick Trengove puts a new spin on the role of Peter the groom. Alec Baldwin brought a sexual charge in the original production also to a point that he had celebrity status at the time and played it sort of tongue in cheek.  Nick Trengove does a much better portrayal of the man playing it straight fully and earnestly. He interprets the character as a somewhat shy and reticent manner and is ready to jump into the love affair without hesitations. He brings a humorous puzzlement to his role as narrator.

 

Allison Page is excellent at conveying the downbeat Rita’s the bridge abiding anxiety in a role that’s naturally imbalance against that of Peter who tells the story. She captures all of Rita’s neurotic charm but evokes just enough of the very different post-kiss guy/girl who as Peter puts it, seems to have “switch channels”.

 

Richard Wenzel is admirable as the Old Man . He is a marvelously unsentimental actor whose economy of means works well for him in this production. His calm delivery of a long monologue describing in gray detail the wearying trek from cradle to grave leaves the audience a heart-rendering serenity.  Jay Carty Marsh adds some comic flavor as Rita’s mother as does Dave Sikula as her cheerfully oblivious father.

 

William Leschber as Taylor, Elena Ruggiero as Aunt Dorothy and Charles Lewis III playing three roles add enormously to this production pleasure.

 

Stuart Bousel directs this fable with customary compassion. Andrew Cummings has minimalist sets with a vision of moving clouds projected on the fourth wall of the three sided intimate theatre.

 

Custom Made Theatre production of Craig Lucas’ “Prelude to a Kiss” plays through June 16th at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St at Bush, San Francisco.  For tickets call 415-798-2682 or on line at www.custommade.org .  Coming up next is Amy Sedaris “The Book of Liz” opening on July 11th.