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Prelude to a Kiss

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The elegant little Gloria Maddox Theatre at the T. Schreiber Studio is perhaps an ideal venue for spinning small stories - its most intimate of settings brings an added immediacy to every action that happens just a few feet away from you. While effective for realistic plays, the Studio's charming new production of Craig Lucas's 1990 Prelude to a Kiss proves that fantasies may work here just as well.

Director Glenn Krutoff has silently directed the audience to be a part of the story as it's told, both as the audience of the play and the audience of the adult fairy tale of the story. As narrated by its central character Peter, the story finds him falling in love with, marrying, and then almost losing his perfect mate.

And, as that woman of his desires, Rita, Rachel Feldman is practically perfect. Feldman's Rita is quirky, both in attitude and appearance, but grounded. She's both outgoing and introspective, afraid of life, as Peter later describes her, but with the present inner spark that so makes Peter - and us - want to fall in love with her. She's detached but warm, complicated but straightforward; Feldman finds every way to make manifest Rita's inner struggle as it relates to the outside world.

That is, until near the end of the first act when a mishap at her wedding finds her soul and personality transplanted into an old man (Gene Fanning), a stranger whose only wish was to kiss the bride. Rita's persona after the switch, taking on a different set of political views and a philosophy of embracing life rather than shying away from it, is equally putty in Feldman's hands. Her transformation is remarkable and all that's required, her performance equally as rich. There are times Feldman looks and sounds like the role's originator Mary-Louise Parker, and if she might not bring everything to the role that Parker did, her wonderfully beguiling performance is not to be missed.

A. J. Handegard, as Peter, is not an equal match for her. He's easygoing, but too forcefully ingratiating, almost demanding the audience's approval instead of letting it come. He doesn't humanize Peter's struggle, his need for love and stability when his world turns upside down. He does have some chemistry with Feldman, but when acting out scenes with Fanning playing Rita, much of that has vanished, too, though Fanning does quite well at portraying the complexities of Feldman's Rita throughout.

Handegard is the show's weakest link, the rest of the actors scoring even in smaller roles. Eric Hollinger is very funny as Peter's overly lecherous (if inexperienced) friend and coworker, while Elizabeth Hayes and John Lisanti bring wisdom and comedy to their roles as Rita's parents. Andrea Marshall-Money is touching in her spotlit moment as the daughter the old man almost leaves behind.

But while Handegard is the show's most unfortunate element, Krutoff has brought everything else together effectively against the backdrop of Tal Goldin's fantastical New York skyline, in which the moon dominates all). Krutoff and Feldman understand how the power of love affects our hopes for, and fears of, the future and they bring those elements out in the heightened reality of Lucas's work, making it a warm, winning, and occasionally moving tribute to the supernatural forces that affect all our lives.

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T. Schreiber Studio
Prelude to a Kiss
Through December 8
Running time: Two hours with one intermission
Gloria Maddox Theatre, 151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 741-0265