Andy Phelan and Liz Eckert in Stage Kiss (photo © Stolen Chair Theatre Company)..
BOTTOM LINE: Stolen Chair Theatre Company's Stage Kiss is a gender-bending farce with humorous irreverence for all things: from the Greek gods to Shakespearean quotes, from aging breasts to rotting deer.
Stolen Chair Theatre Company dubs Stage Kiss, a play they originally produced in 2006, a “blank verse love-letter to Charles Ludlam,” the 1980s Drag Queen of Farce. With all its cross-dressing, mistaken identities, coincidental entrances, and double entendres, I can think of no more appropriate tagline myself.
The performance tackles heavy issues: the value of virginity, the transmutability of gender, the alternate permutations of the traditional “couple.” It pays homage to Shakespeare, even mimicking exact lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Ill met by moonlight, proud [Titania]/ What jealous [Oberon]” and Puck’s famous epilogue “If we shadows have offended…” But Stage Kiss does not take itself too seriously.
The set boasts an inflatable palm tree (of the variety often seen at bat mitzvahs), a small angel statue (of the variety found in my grandmother’s flower bed), and a papier-mâché rock (of the standard variety). Rubber ducky shower curtains hide the wings; and Neptune’s trident is tipped, not with spikes, but with golden dildos.
Andy Phelan shines as Gallathea, a beautiful young maiden who, because her father fears she will be chosen as sacrifice to lustful Neptune, hides herself in the forest in men’s clothing. Liz Eckert offers Phelan a wonderful sparring partner in her portrayal of Phyllida, another beautiful young maiden with the same idea but some heavier…balls. The two eventually learn that their salvation lies in each other and that, to put it gently, ‘tis better to poke than be poked. Liza Wade Green and Noah Schultz, as Aphrodite and Neptune, have a hate-sex sibling relationship that rivals Ryan Phillipe and Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions. They move the plot forward with wrestling, masturbation, and plenty of puns. They also double as the fated maidens’ parents.
Stancato’s direction is self-aware and flirts with the idea of theatricality. The line “quaint and Grecian isle” is delivered like a travel agent, and “I tremble at the thought” sends everyone onstage into collective shivers. In one lovely moment, a character has an “aside” to the audience, but all of the other characters respond with looks and “huh?”s in acknowledgement that they can hear, too. Indeed, the fourth wall is flimsy and the actors have fun tearing it down. Aphrodite hits on men in the front row. Neptune pulls a bloodied tampon out of someone’s ear. Wine is served onstage and off.
The spirit of the play offers refreshment from some of the gender-conservative portions of our society and makes a clear statement on the side of same-sex marriage. The play does not, however, thoroughly question gender roles. Though the actors portray characters of a different sex than their own, and though the characters go so far as to change sex onstage, nobody truly escapes the constraints of masculine and feminine. Each relationship has a “man” and a “woman” regardless of the genitalia present. Still, I consider this more a failing of our culture than this performance.
I would recommend Stage Kiss to anyone looking for light-hearted, fun-loving, libido-heavy amusement. It was a joy to watch.
(Stage Kiss plays at Wings Theater, 154 Christopher St (between Greenwich & Washington), through March 5, 2011. Performances are Thursday through Saturday February 24-26 at 8pm, and Thursday through Saturday March 3-5 at 10pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors. To reserve, visit Brown Paper Tickets, or call 800.838.3006. For more information, visit Stolen Chair Theatre Company at www.stolenchair.org.)