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'Stage Kiss' hits you right in the kisser

By Joanne Greco Rochman, Waterbury Republican-American


Who hasn't wondered if actors who kiss on stage are not moved by the physical act? Playwright Sarah Ruhl delves into this question with plenty of humor but also with a twist in her play within-a-play-within-a-play.

That's right, there are two plays within this play. Under the astute direction of Nina Agostine Smith, there's no problem telling when acting or reality are in the spotlight. Best of all, the cast at TheatreWorks New Milford is terrific. However, one can only wonder if the two main characters, She and He, are more than just terrific actors.

While Ruhl deals with art imitating life or vice versa, the audience watches She audition for an old melodrama. An inept director wants to revive this dog of a show and turn it into a hit even though it was a huge flop. The actors take on the exaggerated expressions of a 1930s play. The actress playing She hasn't performed in more than 10 years. Nonetheless, she gets the part.

The surprise is that her co-star turns out to be the former love of her life. The breakup was bad.

Needless to say, the kissing scenes go badly for the first few rehearsals, and so they have to do those scenes over and over again. Eventually, all that smooching seems to get beyond the acting experience. The question becomes: Can actors really just act as if they are sexually attracted to each other? Can they kiss without meaning?

As the play moves from the play to the offstage life of She and He, it looks like a continuation of what was on stage. However, Ruhl has something else up her sleeve. It's a fun play that seems more simple than it is.

Karin Elsesser plays She with a great deal of comedy, as does David Macharelli as He. They both have fine comic timing that brings out the best of the humor. Matt McQuail does a fine job as the talentless director, especially when he moves out into the audience to get a better look at the stage. Richard Chad Frey adds to the laughter factor as Kevin, the assistant to the director who steps in for He when He is not available. She can hardly stand it when Kevin steps in because he opens his mouth so wide; She complains that it seems as though he is going to eat her. J. Scott Williams does a fine job as the real husband, as do Rosie Koocher and Klara Gribetz with their double roles.

Act One seems as though this is going to be a bit of play puff, but Ruhl has more in store for attentive audiences in Act Two.

Overall, this is a very good production. Brandon Cook's set works well with the switch from stage to bedroom. Dylan Dineen's lighting design and Nina A. Smith's sound design function well. The production plays through Jan. 6. Box office: 860-350-6863.

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