Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Evan Yionoulis directs a talented acting ensemble. It seems that they have discovered, through the internet, a script, one of high melodrama. For 30 minutes or so, situation comedy carries the show. Ahmed (Ian Lassiter) is determined to wed Hadeel (Sohina Sidhu). Youssif (James Cusati-Moyer) is, however, completely smitten with the young, attractive Hadeel. She admits, in a burst of language, that she is ready to sleep with him. Youssif's current girlfriend is Bana (Hend Ayoub). This is all set within the context of a living room in Damascus, 2014. Hadeel is actually facilitating an evening to watch a soap opera on an old television. The first third of Kiss, featuring more than a few declarations of love, is laugh-out-loud stuff.
There is a brief break and the cast reappears to explain that we will now be introduced to the scriptwriter. A Skype-type video features a tension-ridden Woman (Rasha Zamamiri) who wears a blonde wig and dark sunglasses. Appearing on a rear screen with her Interpreter (Abubakr Ali), she absolutely shifts the tone of the production. This is a tough time and Syria is a country beset with war and subsequent loss of human life. That portion of the presentation profoundly transforms atmosphere and theme.
Next, the actors revisit their original script but so much has changed. They felt they did not get it right the first time. Hence, try again. Hadeel is coughing repeatedly as are some others. Intensity and the promise of suffering have replaced levity. Multiple interpretations are possible; this is not a play which neatly provides answers.
A couple of years before Chile's Salvador Allende, a socialist, was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet, Guillermo Calderon was born. It was 1971. He came of age during a troubling period in Chile. Upheaval surrounded him. Kiss is the first play he has written in English. As he was writing this script in 2013, there were chemical weapons attacks near or in Damascus.
Calderon has fashioned a play within a play. It is performed before and after a terse explication, on a screen, which alters one's theater experience. What was once a love triangle replete, almost, with farce is ultimately a story about ramifications of civil war in Syria. The evening began with some relationship entanglements. Finally, though, when the actors come back and enact the script it again, it is with new, disturbing knowledge. The production nears an end as some on stage begin to do away with scenery.
Hadeel is very much at the center of Kiss, and second year Yale School of Drama MFA candidate Sohina Sidhu performs with poise and persuasion. She and a group of uniformly excellent actors are impressively coached by Evan Yionoulis, who will soon become Director of Drama at Juilliard.
Kiss forces an observer to intellectually stretch. It might be difficult for one to ascertain whether he or she fully grasps even a portion of the playwright's intent. The high quality of performance at Yale is unquestioned. It is no small task to appreciate Calderon's comprehensive intent or message without having some prior prepping of what ensues. Challenging to be sure, struggle is at the heart of the show. The experience is nothing short of agitating and disquieting.
Kiss, through May 19, 2018, at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven CT. For tickets, call the box office at 203-432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.