Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Prelude to a Kiss"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Carl A. Rossi


by Craig Lucas
directed by Peter DuBois

Peter … Brian Sgambati
Taylor … Timothy John Smith
Rita … Cassie Beck
Tom; Jamaican Waiter … Jason Bowen
Mrs. Boyle … Nancy E. Carroll
Dr. Boyle … Michael Hammond
Minister … Ted Hewlett
Aunt Dorothy; Leah … Cheryl McMahon
Uncle Fred … Ken Cheeseman
Old Man … MacIntyre Dixon
Ensemble … Georgette Lockwood; Alex Schneps

Rarely do my Huntington reviews go by without my mentioning its productions being enlarged --- no! puffed up! --- to fill the vastness of the Boston University stage, and said vastness particularly deflates the fizzy charm of Craig Lucas’ PRELUDE TO A KISS, where a kooky young bride exchanges souls with a dying old man when they kiss at her wedding; once he realizes the switcheroo, the devoted husband (i.e. the prince in this fairytale) moves heaven and earth to set things right, again. This is an intimate comedy-fantasy with Mr. Lucas’ flickering dialogue bringing the characters to instant life --- you sense ever-thinking brains, turning this way and that, behind these fleeting words. The plot strains credibility, though: an old (heterosexual) man, suddenly finding himself in a young woman’s body --- and newly-married, at that --- would not be physically demonstrative with “her” husband and want babies from the get-go (his mindset would need some adjusting, to say the least); substituting an old woman would have made better emotional-sense but, then, PRELUDE TO A KISS would have lacked the young husband slaying a personal dragon to embrace his aging “bride” as proof of his love, for better or for worse --- “like, if he can kiss that old man, he must really love what’s inside!” (In George Axelrod’s comedy GOODBYE, CHARLIE, the contrasting hero is attracted to the luscious woman left on his doorstep but must restrain himself since she is the reincarnation of a male buddy, recently shot for adultery.)

The Huntington production runs softly and smoothly, with Scott Bradley’s set-pieces gliding in and out as solemn as tanks and with plenty of back-pieces reaching up, up, up in the flies, but the results are akin to pouring bubbly into a wide, shallow bowl, making the effervescence vanish all the quicker. A smaller stage (such as the Huntington’s own at the Calderwood Pavilion) would have helped Cassie Beck as the cross-gender bride: Ms. Beck, a husky, corn-fed-looking actress, belts rather than declaims --- this may work well, enough, when she is later impersonating a blunt old man, but I never warmed to her as a child-woman (there is no magical difference between the two); the Calderwood space might have given Ms. Beck a chance to calm down, to speak in a normal register and to concentrate on her characterizations though I cannot fault the B.U. acoustics altogether for Brian Sgambati as the husband, MacIntyre Dixon as the old man, and local actors Nancy E. Carroll, Michael Hammond and Cheryl McMahon as assorted relatives can project into the house and still sound conversational; they are giving out-and-out performances. But, on the night I attended, the Huntington audience didn’t mind what they saw and heard (they never do).

In reviewing the Huntington’s superb production of ALL MY SONS, I suggested the Old Girl becoming an out-and-out theatre-museum, trotting out Golden Age dramas that are still worth reviving. I take heart with the Huntington opening its 2010-2011 season with William Inge’s BUS STOP, set in a small, Midwestern diner; though delighted at the news, I am already wondering how long it would take one of Mr. Inge’s waitresses to cross from, say, stage left to serve a customer on the other side of the world --- that is, stage right…

And there you have it: the Huntington is saddled with a barn that cries out for grand opera, SHOW BOAT, FOLLIES, but continues to produce small-cast shows where its actors tiptoe like pygmies through the undergrowth. This all boils down to a desire to make a lot of money but at a minimal cost, especially now when the arts are taking a beating, but if that continues to be the Old Girl’s stance than I will continue to take them to task for it, and the dance goes on…and on….

"Prelude to a Kiss" (14 May-13 June)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide