2nd Story Theatre’s Prelude to a Kiss Proves to be a Romance for All Ages
Today I stand two decades older, having experienced true love and great loss, knowing firsthand that desperate longing to be in another’s shoes – even for a stolen moment.by Marilyn A. Busch, Motif
Is there a moratorium on the need for spoiler alerts after the 28-year mark? In the interest of any readers under the age of 30, I’ll give you a heads up now not to read past this first paragraph. Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss is a romantic play that is getting a thoughtful and whole-hearted staging at 2nd Story Theatre until December 11. Okay, now you’ve gotten the big thumbs up: Drive to Warren, enjoy the play and then come right back here so we can all talk freely about it!
Are they gone? Super. Now we can all speak freely. First, full disclosure, I have such fond memories of this play since I first saw it in 1992 at Trinity Rep. (Don’t do the math, it was a while ago.) Starring the effervescent Nance Williamson opposite resident hunk Danny Welch and the formidable Richard Kneeland, I remembered the play with such certainty. A woman named Rita has her body “stolen” on her wedding day by a kiss from a mysterious old man. They switch places. The young bride begins to act strangely – buying extravagant things, wanting a baby, happily quitting her job – all completely baffling her new husband. The rest was of the story was foggy …why did it happen? How did it end? Who was the old man? I remembered nothing of that part of the story.
Having now seen 2nd Story Theatre’s production through new (and yes, older) eyes, I see the play as so much more layered and truthful today – mainly due to Ed Shea’s whip-smart direction and playwright Craig Lucas’ prose. The two-act play starts out fast and funny, with Peter and Rita (played by a charming David Sackal and a radiant Lara Hakeem) meeting cute through a mutual friend (the always animated Charles Lafond). The relationship soon matures from awkward rom-com patter to more intimate confessions after a tussle in the sheets. Things are moving fast; he meets her chatty upper-middle class parents (strong turns from Susan Bowen-Powers and Joe Henderson) and after just two months together they are married in her parent’s backyard.
It is here that the show turns away from the ‘everyday’ and takes us slowly into murkier and more mystical territory. An Old Man (F. William Oakes) asks the bride for a kiss, and while it is clear that there is something “off” in the stranger’s manner, she consents. What follows is utter chaos – the Old Man faints, starts calling out to the guests and soon runs off down the street. It is not until Peter and his bride are well into their honeymoon that he starts to put together that there was more to that kiss than first appeared and his bride is no longer the Rita he knew.
Hakeem does a wonderful job transitioning from bright-eyed Rita to the darker, moodier Old Man inhabiting Rita. The changes are noticeable but not implausible, all of it could be easily chalked up to rushing into the marriage without truly getting to know a person.
But what has happened to that spontaneous spirit that was once inside her body? Of course, she now is inside the Old Man (F. William Oakes). While known for more outlandish and comedic roles, Oakes is remarkable, turning in perhaps the most nuanced (and certainly the loveliest) performance of his career.
In the second act, Lucas’ script reaches for more poetic heights as Rita and Peter’s marriage vows of love “until death” are tested. The fact that these tender scenes are played by two men (Oakes and Sackal) make it even more poignant. Equally moving are the scenes where Old Man/Rita (Hakeem) confesses what drove him to take hold of the bride on her wedding day.
When I was a young, single college student in ’92, I was sure this play was Rita’s nightmare. Today I stand two decades older, having experienced true love and great loss, knowing firsthand that desperate longing to be in another’s shoes – even for a stolen moment.