If you crossed Noises Off with Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, and threw in Slings and Arrows for good measure, the hyper-theatrical result might look something like Sarah Ruhl’s new play, Stage Kiss. Now at Playwrights Horizons, in a production directed by Rebecca Taichman, Stage Kiss is a wacky comedy about the difference — or lack of it — between what we pretend to do onstage and what we really do in life.
Our protagonist (Jessica Hecht) hasn’t acted for years when she auditions for the revival of a galumphing comic romance slated to open in New Haven. She’s not expecting to be cast, and certainly not opposite her old flame (Dominic Fumusa), who, in a meta twist, is also playing her character’s old flame onstage. After feigning passion for eight shows a week (including a total of 288 stage kisses), onstage love ignites offstage lust, and infidelities ensue.
Ruhl’s dialogue is sharp and funny, and the cast is wonderful (Michael Cyril Creighton is hilarious as the universal understudy). But the goofy high jinks evaporate around intermission, and the second act traipses dutifully toward an emotionally tone-deaf ending. For a playwright who favors theatrical flights of fancy, Ruhl ends up displaying some surprisingly literal ideas about the relationship between art and life.