Theater archives

Kiss of Life


Craig Lucas’s 1990 play Prelude to a Kiss is a modern urban fairy tale, the charm and wisdom of which are so strong that even knowing the above definition is a pun—for the play might be described as a piece of homoerotic permission for heterosexuals—doesn’t cheapen them. A young couple who know very little about each other, Rita (Annie Parisse), a bartender with vague aspirations to being a graphic designer and Peter (Alan Tudyk), a tech guy who archives scientific data on microfiche, start dating, move in together, and, maybe too quickly, decide to get married without knowing all that much about each other. Intelligent drifters in our disconnected, virtualizing world, their distance from old-style family ties is part of what bonds them. Something strange happens at the wedding, and on the honeymoon Peter starts finding Rita disconcertingly changed. Everybody tells him this is par for the course in married life, but they might as well try telling him that Don Pasquale and The Dybbuk are the same story (Lucas’s tale ingeniously mixes elements of both). That old stranger (John Mahoney) who acted so weirdly at the wedding might be able to clear up the mystery, if he could just be found . . . .

As befits his modern urbanity, Lucas has playful, and rueful, fun with his remixed supernatural motifs. The fairy tale’s traditional transformations are tested against the contemporary sense of dissolving personality. In a world where politics, lifestyles, or even eye color can change in a flash, you hardly need a fairy godmother’s wand to do the trick; identity itself becomes something as much chosen as inborn. Daniel Sullivan’s swift, stylish production, less gentle in its touch than Norman Rene’s original staging, gives the warmhearted script an intriguingly scary, 21st-century edge, with the people always looking slightly like lost souls on Santo Loquasto’s steely, multistory set, and Parisse, after the transformation, echoing its steel with her wonderfully sudden shifts from sharp to soft.