Chicago Theatre Review
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Prelude to a Kiss – The Comrades
Prolific playwright and screenwriter Craig Lucas has, to his credit, composed such hit plays as “Missing Persons,” “Blue Window” and “Reckless,” as well as the libretti for “The Light in the Piazza,” “Cinderella,” “An American in Paris” and the upcoming Broadway musical, “Amelie.” His screenplays include “Longtime Companion,” as well as adaptations of his own plays, “The Dying Gaul,” “Reckless” and “Prelude to a Kiss.” While Mr. Lucas, an openly gay artist, was deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic that infected so many in the 1980’s and 90’s, he writes about all people and the universal problems that afflict humanity.
In this wonderful, bittersweet play, Lucas’ biggest commercial success, he’s written a romantic fairy tale. Peter and Rita, two young people in their 20’s, meet at a party, become attracted to each other, quickly fall in love and marry. Following the wedding ceremony, an unknown old man wanders into the reception and asks if, for good luck, he can kiss the bride. Suddenly, a strange occurrence takes place and the souls of Rita and the old man trade bodies. When Peter finally figures out what’s happened he sets about to restore Rita to herself again.
In this, the third production by this relatively new theatre company, the beautiful fragility of this dreamy love story is given a new, jolting interpretation that clashes with Lucas’ original intent. Instead of a story about two loving people that’s laced with good-natured humor and quirky characters, we get a brashly staged situation comedy straight out of TV Land. It’s as if Derek Bertelsen, whose last production for this company was the bizarre, 90’s inspired “Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love,” has directed a lost episode of “Married With Children” or “The Nanny.” All that’s missing is the laugh track. The pace is frenetic. The acting style is aggressively animated and far too vivacious. This in-your-face approach would be appropriate for a farce, such as “Noises Off,” but not for this play. Bertelsen has staged some beautiful productions in the past, including “Next Fall,” “Design for Living,” “God of Carnage” and “The Children’s Hour.” This latest effort is a misstep.
Bertelsen’s cast try valiantly to tell Lucas’ story but only succeed every now and then. Bethany Hart’s portrayal of Rita seems the most grounded in the reality that Lucas has written, although there are moments when she even gives way to the madness that surrounds her on stage. David Coupe makes a likable Peter, but he easily falls prey to the kinetic chaos that seems to take over the stage in this production. Although sometimes a bit unsure of himself, Ed McGuire, as the Old Man, comes closest to portraying the character Lucas has written. He maintains the simplicity, the elegance and the fragility of love and death that should be at the forefront of this play. His performance is like a breath of fresh air and a welcome respite to the loud shouting and unflagging action carrying on around him.
In a much-welcome production of a play that deals with heartbreak, love and tenderness, there’s far too much pizzazz and pep here. It’s as if this beautiful play, set in 1990, is simply another loud TV sitcom that’s been transferred to the stage to be presented live for theatre audiences. It misses the mark. Welcome to TV Land.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 12-February 4 by The Comrades at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Greenhouse Theater box office or by going to www.the-comrades.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.