By Lucy Komisar
Sarah Ruhl is a very funny clever playwright. Her Stage Kiss is a witty play about acting, especially what happens when two ex-lovers get cast in a play that requires a lot of kissing. That‘s a physical “mannerism” that has a lot of physical impact. I mean, even staged fights don‘t land real blows.
The two actors, She (Jessica Hecht) – is this a satirical jab at Albee? – and He (Dominic Fumusa), both now in their mid-40s, are doing a play from 1932 Broadway. Hecht, one of my favorites, seems always slightly mentally off-key, a comic pose, and Fumusa is a very good slightly angry romantic lead. Angry at this impossible woman, but still turned on by her.
She starts out with another actor who is reading the part:
SHE: Nice to meet you, Kevin. Do you want me to actually kiss Kevin, or Kevin do you mind if we kiss; you look young, I don‘t want to traumatize you.
KEVIN: No”please, go ahead.
AS ADA: (To Kevin, as the lover) God, I love you. I love you I love you I love you. They kiss.
AS ADA: Your lips taste like”let me taste them again. She kisses him again. Of cherries? No.
KEVIN: I‘m so sorry, I‘m so sweaty, the elevator‘s broken”
SHE: Oh no, you‘re beautiful. She kisses him again. Of chestnuts. Oh, God, I want to kiss you all day!
KEVIN: (AS LOVER) And I you. She kisses him again. She starts laughing. Sorry”there was a little crumb in your mouth.
KEVIN: Oh, sorry. He wipes the crumb.
Then “He” (Fumusa), her former lover, does a rehearsal with “She” (Hecht).
AS JOHNNY: I always said you would end up with a man with a briefcase. I knew that, even when we began our doomed romance.
But don‘t tell me you‘ve become conventional, darling”kiss me”one last kiss…
That‘s what I came for, isn‘t it? One last kiss. You‘re as beautiful as the day I met you.
(This reminds me of a Noel Coward play. Or maybe it’s Casablanca.)
AS ADA: Am I?
AS JOHNNY: (very sincerely, dropping out of character, slightly)
Yes, only I wish I‘d put these lines on your face myself. Each one. He traces the lines on her face, tenderly.They kiss.
AS ADA: Oh, Johnny!
DIRECTOR: Let me take you to Sweden”
AS JOHNNY: (overlapping) Let me take you to Sweden. You should die in a place where the trees are higher than the buildings.
AS ADA: No, I prefer to die where the buildings are higher than the trees. I‘m a city girl. I like to be perched high above everything”so I can see. (So wonderfully hokey!!)
AS JOHNNY: Above everything”including people.
AS ADA: What‘s that supposed to mean?
AS JOHNNY: (Talking as both Johnny and HE) It was as though you were always perched above me, taking in the view, you couldn‘t even see my face.
SHE: Seriously? I saw your face! (not her line at all) What? Line?
DIRECTOR: I can‘t help it if you aren‘t very tall.
AS ADA: I can‘t help it if you aren‘t very tall.
AS JOHNNY: Don‘t be glib!
AS ADA: I was mad about you! Mad! Don‘t you see?
(Isn‘t this Coward?)
AS JOHNNY: (Also as HE) Then why‘d you leave, Ada!
AS ADA: (Also as SHE) It was impossible! Perhaps if I‘d loved you less it would have been hunky-dory! I loved you too much! They look at each other. For longer than is required.
DIRECTOR: I think I hear my husband.
AS ADA: I think I hear my husband. Hang it all!
AS HUSBAND: Hello, Johnny. Welcome to New York. I understand you‘ve been in Sweden?
AS JOHNNY: That‘s right. (He says something in Swedish.). That means: Thanks for having me. It‘s good of you. In Swedish. I‘m sorry about the”circumstances.
AS HUSBAND: Oh, don‘t mention it, she doesn‘t want it mentioned. Do you have everything you need to make you comfortable?
They also do a funny noirish play within a play.
You get the idea. Better to cite these clever hokey funny lines than to describe them, which would miss so much. I loved this play.
So they get together for a while, but not permanently, and the end doesn‘t really matter. It‘s all the dialogue that leads up to it. Sarah Ruhl is a wonderfully funny playwright. And director Rebecca Taichman keeps tongue firmly in check to create a memorable comedic delight.
“Stage Kiss.” Written by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Rebecca Taichman. Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, New York City. (212) 279–4200; Opened Feb 7, 2014; closes April 5, 2014. 4/4/14.