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Review: 'Stage Kiss' at TheatreWorks New Milford

By Nancy Sasso Janis, The Naugatuck Patch


New Milford, CT – The TheatreWork's press packet describes 'Stage Kiss' as a highly theatrical, not-so-romantic comedy about two actors with a history who are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama. They quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them offstage. This is a charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss—or when actors share a real one.

This production was directed by the legendary Nina Agostine Smith of Waterbury in her directorial debut at TheatreWorks. Ms. Smith is a teacher at the Waterbury Arts Magnet School for the past 14 years and the 2013 Teacher of the Year for the Waterbury school district. She directed the WAMS productions of 'Waiting for Godot,' 'Into the Woods,' 'I, Don Quixote,' and the fabulous 'Grand Hotel,' all of which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Her next directing project will be the upcoming WAMS production of the ambitious 'Memphis' in early April on the Palace Theater stage.

Click here to listen to the podcast of Backstage with Johnny O's interview with Ms. Smith.

The teacher/director notes that in her humble opinion, Sarah Ruhl is the quintessential female playwright of our time. "Her writing is purposeful, poetic, graceful and poignant," she writes in her note in the program. Ms. Smith told me before the play began on opening night that she and the cast would not be holding anything back. She purposefully wrote: "In this production, we make no excuses for allowing our audience to see the theatrical process from the initial audition, the rehearsal process, the final performance, to rekindling an old love, a new production, a choice, a flop, a mistake, a realization, then appreciating our true partner in life."

In my humble opinion, the behind the scenes sections of the two acts were the best parts of Ms. Ruhl's work; the "not-so-romantic comedy" that takes the title of the play quite literally was somewhat less engaging. At one point I lost my place in the action and found myself wondering if the scene was part of one of the two plays within the play or was supposed to be the actors' real life. It turned out to be the latter, and I was glad that I had tried hard to give this daffy tale a chance.

That is not to say that the actors and director did not work hard to make this comedy the best they could and there were plenty of laughs on opening night.

The cast was led by the terrific Karin Elsesser of New Milford in the role of "She." The Western CT State University graduate returns to the stage after what she calls "a ten year hiatus" to play the female romantic lead in all of the plays that come to life on the TheatreWorks stage. Ms. Elsesser was a whirlwind of motion as the mature actress returning to the stage and gave a very professional performance throughout the two acts. I look forward to seeing her again on a local stage.

"She" was well-matched by David Macharelli of Waterbury in the role of, you guessed it, "He." Mr. Macharelli is always such a natural onstage. He writes that he is grateful to the director that he had the opportunity to play "not only one rich character, but to play him playing two others." By day, the actor is a yoga teacher, a graphic and fine artist who works at the Mattatuck Museum, where he recently appeared in 'A Night at Jacques.'

Matt McQuail of Newtown played the director of the two embedded plays and J. Scott Williams of Brookfield ('Private Lives') was again very convincing and suave as the husband of "She." Rosie Koocher of Bronxville, NY in her TheatreWork's debut covered nicely the roles of Angela and Mille, while Richard Chad Frey of New Fairfield ('Zombie Prom') played the young actor Kevin and thanked the educators who have helped him along the way in his program bio. Klara Gribetz, a Hofstra graduate, traveled from White Plains, NY to play Millicent and Laurie and did very well with both roles.

Ms. Smith brought along fellow WAMS teacher and community theatre actress Doreen Lopez to be her stage manager. The specialty costume designer was Roxy Brown and Brandon Cook was in charge of the clever set design. Dylan Dineen did some nice work with the lighting design and Ms. Smith took care of the sound design. WAMS teacher John Mobilio is thanked in the program and I suspect that he had something to do with the added music.

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