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March 28, 2015
 

This is Not My Beautiful Wife

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Katherine Martin & Neill Mulac in Prelude To A Kiss.
Photo-Wayward Actors Company

 

Prelude To A Kiss

By Craig Lucas
Directed by Neil Brewer

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved

You are happily married, but suddenly one day your beloved spouse seems a stranger to you. It’s a common enough trope in dramatizing the breakdown of a relationship, and Prelude To A Kiss is not the first time a fanciful, metaphorical gimmick has been employed to illustrate it.

Craig Lucas’ play looks like a lightweight, romantic comedy, but the themes run a little deeper than that. The high-concept notion of soul transference (a nearly ubiquitous device in the 1980’s, when the play was written) is simply a device to instigate an examination of identity, marital relationships and mortality.

Director Neil Brewer takes a sober and reflective approach to the play that emphasizes the psychology at the expense of some of the more superficial, commercial aspects of the material. The humor is not removed, but it is either underplayed or swallowed in late cues that lead to indifferent timing. In either case, the effect is not bad theatre, but, rather, an unorthodox take on familiar material.

Lucas’s text is lean and economical, simpler than I remembered. Peter (Neil Mulac) and Rita (Katherine Martin) meet and fall in love, tentatively at first, but then a fast plunge into the deep end turns into marriage. At the reception, a mysterious Old Man wishes the couple well, but when he avails himself of the opportunity to kiss the bride, their souls switch bodies. Peter improbably starts to catch on but is uncertain how to rectify the unusual situation. It was an all-too-common premise in the year’s preceding the play’s 1988 debut, but Craig Lucas’s text rises above the ordinary enough to have been a Pulitzer finalist. The notion of identity lost within a marriage is deeply resonant for a society plagued by divorce, however much Lucas’ fantastical gimmick seems to suggest superficiality.

Mr. Brewer seeks to focus on the more ruminative qualities, and his leads deliver subtler, more naturalistic performances in response. Katherine Martin is so charming as Rita; she makes it entirely plausible that Peter could be so smitten so quickly. She brings a quirky, gamine-like quality to the character that is never forced. She lets the audience come to her. Neil Mulac is only a step behind her in his impact, bringing a tousled-haired hipster sensibility that helps update the play to the now, although there were certain moments that he could have been a little more emphatic in his delivery in service to the text.

Still, the two formed a complex relationship with chemistry and an acting partnership of merit. The supporting cast does not quite match the same level of quality, but they do well enough. Jack Francis does well as the Old Man, a character that is unusual in that most of his time onstage he is actually playing a young woman trapped in his body. If his delivery was a little stiff at times, he managed some indelible unspoken moments. His expression when he encounters Peter for the first time since the transfer is simultaneously filled with hope, despair, and love. Brian Dubois as Rita’s father managed some fine moments, while Emily Miller and Rhett Willman found their laughs with skill. Charlotte Dubois as Rita’s mother is appropriately doting and supportive The remaining cast, Megan Rose Adair, Jim Reid, Wanda Butler, Ben Francis, Christine O’Hara, Rebekah Tyler, Meghan Logue are fine filling in the space and action around the primary characters.

This production may not quite be all that it could be, but it does work, and it works as a fresh, slightly unorthodox take on material that could easily be disposable, low grade romantic comedy in other hands. Mr. Brewer shows a flair for the development of character through detail and sets a solid pace. Opening night could have used a little lift in the overall energy of the performance, but this Prelude is a solid, thoughtful entertainment.

Prelude To A Kiss

March 27, 28, 30, April 3, 4, 2015  8:00pm
April 5, 2015 @ 2:00pm

Tickets $18.00 (413.00 on Industry Night – March 30)

Wayward Actors Company
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
502-584-7777
kentuckycenter.org

 

Keith

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.

 





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