“Stage Kiss” at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Jennifer Cote, Abbey Lee, Edward McCloud, Lydia Revelos

Jennifer Cote, Abbey Lee, Edward McCloud, Lydia Revelos

6th Street Offers a Quirky “Kiss”

Acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl is known for her provocative, intelligent vision laced with humor. Her 2011 play “Stage Kiss” touches on some familiar and not-so-familiar themes: does art imitate life (or vice versa); do you ever really fall out of love; is there any point in cornball melodrama; can a peanut butter and jelly sandwich bring world peace? It also provides an occasionally intriguing and often comical glimpse into the backstage world of theatre.

The show currently has its North Bay premiere at 6th Street Playhouse’s GK Hardt Theatre. The action begins to unfold in the context of a play-within-a-play, “The Last Kiss”, a revival of a very bad 1930s romantic drama, its director played by the gravelly-voiced mollie boice. It seems the two actors cast as romantic leads have a rather passionate past that ended badly. Edward McCloud (“The House That Jack Built”) as the male lead simply known as HE, and Jennifer Cote (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) as SHE, soon discover obvious parallels between the play and their lives, and sparks reignite.  The rest of the cast includes some top Bay Area talent. Tim Kniffin (recently seen in the film “Burn Country”) is hysterically funny in what may be his best performance to date. Abbey Lee delivers sharply contrasting roles that rival anything she’s done before, and that’s really saying something. Gifted funny lady Lydia Revelos (wonderful in “Animal Crackers”) and Rusty Thompson round out the cast.

Jennifer Cote, Tim Kniffin

Jennifer Cote, Tim Kniffin

The first act requires the actors to employ classically over-the-top histrionics as they rehearse their really bad play. It’s both funny and, after awhile, exhausting to watch. The second act does an about-face into stark reality, with another play for HE and SHE to rehearse (they need the money). This one a grimly funny urban crime drama with some effective fight choreography – and a pimp.

Direction by Marty Pistone (“Anna in the Tropics”) is successful in that it offers breathless pacing and crisp dialogue combined with physical comedy and creative gymnastics. The cast forms a great ensemble; their individual performances range from solid to spectacular. On opening night, the first act felt rather disjointed, starting off strong, but becoming inconsistent. The cast gained their bearings in the second act despite some irregular and dropped accents.

The story of HE and SHE comes full circle at the end, and it leaves you wondering exactly what, if any, message is being sent. The offbeat humor and some terrific performances more than make up for it, as witnessed by the standing ovation at curtain.

Jennifer Cote, mollie boice, Edward McCloud

Jennifer Cote, mollie boice, Edward McCloud

When: Now through February 5, 2017

7:30 p.m. Thursdays

8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays

2:00 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays

Tickets $15 to $33

Where: 6th Street Playhouse, GK Hardt Theatre

52 West 6th Street

Santa Rosa, CA

(707) 523-4185 ext. 1

www.6thstreetplayhouse.com