Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Sarah Ruhl shows her indisputable talent with language through these characters. She has been around theatre long enough to create refined portraits of ludicrous directors, self-doubting actresses, and grown actors who have never really grown up. The dialogue is frequently a bit reminiscent of the interchange between the two leads in Kiss Me, Kate.
Stage Kiss has a simple plot. She (that's the character's name) is an actress who has had a long layoff taking care of her daughter and husband and is getting back into things with a play called The Last Kiss, a dreadful overlooked 1930s melodrama about a dying woman brought back to health by the arrival of an old lover. She does not know ahead of time that her lead partner, He, is her ex-flame; they had a torrid love affair in the past. They have to share frequent intimate moments in the play and, of course, it reawakens old feelings.
The audience sees the play-within-the-play which is filled with pompous dialogue and over-acting. Of course, it is a flop. She decides to leave her husband and rekindle her love life with He. The second act takes place in Detroit where they take on a terrible Irish play. He plays an IRA terrorist and She plays hooker. I won't go into what occurs but once again we see the play-within-the-play that is absolutely hilarious with over-acting and pretentious dialogue.
Carrie Paff is wonderful as the actress She. It is hard for this talented actress to become the world's worst actress in both play-within-a-plays. Gabriel Marin is dynamic as He. He is an ego-centric man-child but Marin gives the character a certain sympathy. Paff and Marin have perfect comedic timing.
Mark Anderson Phillips, who has directed many plays, intensely plays the director of both play-within-a-plays. Newcomer Allen Darby plays several roles, including a frenetic enactment of the awkward young actor Kevin during the rehearsal of The Last Kiss. Michael Gene Sullivan gives a fluid, effortless-looking performance as the Husband. Millie DeBenedet plays He's girlfriend brightly while Taylor Iman Jones gives a solid performance as Angela, the daughter of She.
Director Susi Damilano successfully pieces together the comic scenes and draws larger-than-life performances from Gabriel Marin and Carrie Paff. Costumes by Brooks Jennings are chic and glamorous, and really beautifully ludicrous in the Irish play. Sets by Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott are excellent, from a dreary East Village apartment to elaborate sets for the two plays.
Stage Kiss plays through January 9, 2016, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco For tickets, go to sfplayhouse.org/sfph/get-tickets Coming next is Jennifer Haley's The Nether opening on January 23, 2016.