Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Craig Lucas' Prelude to a Kiss is an Engaging Production with a Magnetic Cast

Also see Richard's reviews of The Women and Cirque du Soleil's Corteo

Joe Bellan & Lauren English
SF Playhouse continues its third season with Craig Lucas' modern fairytale, Prelude to a Kiss, playing at 536 Sutter Street, San Francisco through December 17th. This romantic comedy was first produced at the Circle Rep in 1990 with Alec Baldwin and Mary Louise Parker playing the idealistic leads Peter and Rita, and Barnard Hughes playing the Old Man. The play moved to the Helen Hayes Theatre on later that year where Timothy Hutton replaced Alec Baldwin who had other business in Hollywood. I saw the production during the summer of 1990 and I became a big fan of the late Barnard Hughes.

Fox Films did an intelligent adaptation with Baldwin repeating his role while Meg Ryan played Rita. The great American Conservatory Theatre actor Sydney Walker, in one of his rare screen appearances, played the Old Man. Craig Lucas also did the screenplay. (Later there was a trend in Hollywood films where bodies were interchanged for comedy effects.) Occasionally, a regional company or university company presents this pleasant comedy about two people who accidentally put themselves into each other bodies.

Prelude to a Kiss opens up with love at first sight between Peter (Christopher W. Jones) and Rita (Lauren English) who meet at a party thrown by Peter's friend Taylor (Elias Escobedo). The two find they connect mentally, sensitively and physically. In a space of two months they are engaged to be married. The marriage takes place in the country club of Rita's parents, Dr. Boyle (Richard Louis James) and Mrs. Boyle (Karen L. Hirst). After the proceedings, a strange old man (Joe Bellan) arrives uninvited and asks to kiss the bride. As they kiss, the earth shakes and something strange happens. Their bodies interchange without the knowledge of Peter or the guests. In fact, even Rita does not know what happened.

Peter realizes something has changed during their two week honeymoon in Jamaica. Rita acts very strangely and Peter cannot understand why. The second act is dominated by attempts to get the bodies interchanged back, with some hilarious situations between Old Man and Peter.

Craig Lucas's paean to the romantic love in the late '80s is still fresh today, thanks to the direction of Bill English and a great cast of actors. The playwright successfully presents a comedy with the mystical prevailing over the physical, especially in the second act. He shows that true love can overcome temporal obstacles. The dialogues are still clever, especially the lines of Peter and the Old Man.

Christopher W. Jones (Los Angeles actor who had appeared in many productions in the LA area) makes his San Francisco debut as Peter. He is excellent in his portrayal of a normal guy whose optimism has prevailed over his troubled past. He uses the right inflections on all of the clever words of the playwright and is a joy to watch. Lauren English (The Crucible, Monster, Our Town, The Violet Hour) performs her first comedy role and she is side-splitting in the role. She plays Rita with subtlty, hinting that she just might be a different personality, especially when they are in Jamaica. The two actors have great chemistry together.

Joe Bellan (veteran actor of Bay Area Theatre including The Fantasticks, Beggar's Holiday at Marin Theatre) is the emotional heart of this romantic comedy. He starts out as a cellophane type man with no personality prior to the kiss. In the second act he develops movingly into a person of poetry and longing and is entertaining playing a woman in her 20s.

Elias Escobedo (who has played in every Shakespeare Festival) plays Peter's best friend Taylor and is first-rate in the small role. Richard Louis James (The Crucible, Quills) and Karen L. Hirst (Into the Woods at Ross Valley) as Dr. Boyle and wife wring a lot of humor in their performances. Richard Louis James with his powerful theatrical voice and his display of comic timing is perfect in the first scene of the production. Curtis Mahshi, David Crownson, Jean Forsman and Catz Forsman give effective performances in small roles.

Bill English helms this splendid production that has no dull spots. He also designed a simple set against a large picture frame that sometimes contains sparkling stars, a film of ocean waves against the shore, or a plain screen. Props are minimal and there are wheeled in and out at rapid pace. Lighting by Tiffany Dalian and Matthew Miller is very good and costumes by Prem Lahti are in line with '80s outfits.

Prelude to A Kiss plays at SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square), San Francisco, through December 17th. For tickets please call their box office at 415-677-9596 or through or the TIX box office on Union Square. Their next production will be Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Mystery Plays opening on January 14th.

Photo: Mario Parnell

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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