Theater goers have become too sophisticated for escapism. The mirror has become transparent to the audiences of this new century. While we accept the given conceit of a piece, we then fall silent as a pin when the actors reveal who they really are: Humans telling a story. The sets may be fake, the story even absurd, but in Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Stage Kiss, the actors could not have been more real.
On the bare set of a stage audition, the nervous energy of our lead actress, the fragile confidence of April Fossen’s “She” aka Ada, reveals an actress facing her maturity; questioning what is left of her future. All the marks of a disaster present themselves: late to the audition, asking too many questions, admitting to not knowing the piece – in short, the actor’s nightmare revisited. Ms. Fossen strikes such a true chord with the “minor humiliations of life” that we wince with her. Still, first audition jitters give way to an energy inside the Rose Wagner Studio that is so right for this play. Director Mark Fossen bridges both the unnatural nature of 4th wall theater and the reality of actors’ lives with the seams barely showing.
The accidental meeting with Ada’s old lover at the first read-through of a new play unsettles a life she had settled for. Reality blurs as the former lovers must play lovers. Neither “He”, aka Johnny, played by Daniel Beecher, nor Ada is too happy about the casting. Mr. Beecher is so clear in his focus and intentions, and together with Ms. Fossen, they are attentive and awkward as they rehearse a terrible play called The Last Kiss. Inevitably, the former lovers become entangled again.The script is bad; the acting is tortured. As Johnny notes, “It’s a bad sign when a play is written by three people.” Nevertheless, how deliciously earnest are these actors’ attempts at the play within the play.
Packed with humor throughout, in Stage Kiss, Ruhl winks at the synthetic absurdity of plays and playacting. As if to emphasize the point, most of the actors in this uniformly excellent cast play dual roles. Ann Cullimore Decker as the director feigns indulgence; she’s a little unctuous and even sly; “I’ll play the pimp.” Testifying to Utah audience’s admiration of her storied career in theater, Ms. Decker was cast despite the fact that the role was written for a man.
Throughout the performance the sense of faux reality is still so clear, that when the actors as themselves come to grips with their lives, and the inherent pretension of their profession, the shift between worlds is fascinating. I was captivated by a sense of both reality and irony as Ms. Fossen relates a Buddhist parable about, of all things, a ghost.
Our theater has become so Brechtian – modern theater is always reminding you that you’re watching something. But at the same time it touches reality in so many different places, despite the artificiality that is no longer hidden from audiences. In that sense, the art of WTC’s Stage Kiss thoughtfully succeeds in reflecting our lives.
This play contains Adult Themes and Language. Recommended for more mature teens and older.
April 30th – May 14th Thur, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Matinees at 2 pm on May 7th, 8th and 14th
38 W Broadway, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Adults $20 General Admission Seating ~ Box Office: 801-355-2787 On Line: http://arttix.org/
Tags: Mark Fossen, Sarah Ruhl, April Fossen, Daniel Beecher, Anne Cullimore Decker, Tristan Johnson, David Hanson, Ali Kinkaid, Brenda Hattingh