‘Stage Kiss is a brilliant, brittle, funny play – and a minefield for actors. Under Ross Jolly’s assured direction, a group of super-talented Circa actors pick their way through the mines almost nonchalantly and bring the play triumphantly home. ‘History, Marx tells us, repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce’. Stage Kiss has its way with us first as farce – hilarious, broad and at times improbable – and if it doesn’t repeat itself as tragedy exactly, there is certainly enough going on below its glossy surface to give us pause for thought. Much too good an evening at Circa to keep to myself!’ – Ian Fraser
From Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl, comes this wickedly clever and charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss – or when actors share a real one.
When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930’s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them off stage.
Ruhl is an accomplished, acclaimed author who brings her unique mix of lyricism, sparkling humour and fierce intelligence to the world of romantic comedy. Universal themes include… ageing, betrayal, love, marriage and family.
Stage Kiss is a gift and a rarity… moving, smart and flat-out hilarious. Make a date night for one of the hottest new plays to hit the stage.
Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.
“If you are after an evening of light laughs and slick, well-crafted theatre, Stage Kiss is a show not to be missed.” – Art murmurs
“Danielle Mason’s beautifully calibrated performance in a complex role…” – Theatreview
“Danielle Mason gives a stellar performance…” – Dom Post
Wellington actress Harriet Prebble sits down with me in a break from rehearsals to discuss life as an emerging artist. Her performance in Gifted last year (written by Patrick Evans and directed by Conrad Newport), earned her a nomination for both Most Promising Newcomer and Best Supporting Actress in the 2015 Wellington Theatre Awards. This year, she has performed a leading role in the Caryl Churchill double bill season at BATS Theatre and now she is tackling Stage Kiss,her second Circa Theatre show, written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Ross Jolly, for a season this July.
Prebble “started in amatuer theatre and worked closer and closer inwards” and has always performed throughout highschool and as part of the theatre society during university. Recently promoted to the role of manager at the Lighthouse Cinema Cuba, Prebble enjoys the work that she does and chooses to maintain performing as just a hobby. She says it’s useful having the separation; “If I don’t get a role I can still pay my rent.”
With a degree in European Languages and postgraduate study in Publishing including an internship with Penguin books, Prebble has made a conscious decision not to study theatre. Prebble has still managed to constantly perform without study, ranging between amatuer and more profesional work.
“I think you do learn by doing and you learn by watching, well at least I do. There’s definitely a lot of technique that you can learn, that I have had to learn through trial and error. So people come out of drama school and they can project and they know how to move their bodies and those kind of things,” Prebble says. However, she mentions that it has worked in her favour with directors liking her difference in style.
With other performers having attended drama school together, Prebble says it’s difficult as they have pre-established connections and relationships with each other. “Connections are good because lots of directors just want to know that someone is easy to work with and is friendly and will turn up on time and that sort of thing. Being a good actor is important but it’s also those other hard working aspects. So once they know that you can be there for the show, once you’ve proven that aspect of yourself it’s easier.” Prebble says.
“Of course it would be a dream to do nothing but drama everyday for three years.”
Writing is something Prebble may be interested in pursuing in the future, but it is not a short term goal as she is choosing to focus on performing and not to pursue other aspects of theatre. “Backstage roles kind of terrify me. There’s so much responsibility and they work so hard. If you forget your lines you can improvise. But if there’s not a prop onstage or the lights haven’t come up or something, it’s obvious. You can’t fluff your way through it.”
“A lot of people ask if I’m a performer because it makes me happy. But I would say that I am a performer because not performing makes me unhappy. Performing brings me up to neutral, as opposed to giving me extreme levels of ecstasy. It’s just what I need to do to survive, and when I don’t for a long period of time I get all grumpy and sad.”
“A performance life, it just needs to be there.”
Prebble likes to keep busy, which is true of her current schedule; starting work at about 6 or 7am until 10am, straight to rehearsals from 10am-4pm and then returning back to work afterwards as well as working weekends.
With full time rehearsal over four weeks and then a run of four weeks Stage Kiss “is really great. It’s a comedy, it’s really funny and I think that it’s particularly funny for actors because it’s kind of meta. It’s about actors having to act with each other and it’s a play within a play. It’s a lot of fun to do.”
The cast is tight and professional, Prebble says and “everyone has that right combination of professionalism but also ability to not take themselves too seriously.” Through performing Prebble says that intense connections are formed with cast mates, sometimes creating bonds that last forever as well as providing many learning experiences.
Stage Kiss is a “quick-paced, modern, witty, comedy. A play within a play, and the play within the play is a 1930s melodrama. The changes in between that are funny, have a New York style chatty, modern ‘Friends’ kind of thing and then it goes to the melodrama and then it goes to them dropping out to ask the director questions.”
Theatre Review: Stage Kiss
Dominion Post stuff.co.nz July 3 2016
By Sarah Ruhl, directed by Ross Jolly. Circa Theatre, until July 30 Reviewed by Ewen Coleman
Kissing on stage usually appears real and believable, but American playwright Sarah Ruhl wasn’t so sure this was always the case so decided to investigate it further, to the extent of creating a play about it.
Although the premise of Stage Kiss is rather slight, a skilled playwright like Ruhl is nevertheless able to hone an interesting and, at times, funny play from it.
It focuses on what happens when two actors, She (Danielle Mason) and He (Peter Daube), who 20 years ago were acting together on stage and lovers off, but who haven’t seen each other since then, meet again, unexpectedly, on stage. Of course, they have to kiss, the play being a second-rate 1930s drama called The Last Kiss, which rekindles old, but not dead flames. They then end up in another play, written specifically for them, based on their renewed relationship. A sort of “art-mirrors-life-mirrors-art” scenario.
Through this concept, Ruhl also canvases the chemistry behind kissing, when it does and doesn’t work, and the associated love and romance that goes with kissing.
And while the first half creates many hilarious, but also telling moments, the second half, where Ruhl becomes more serious about her subject, struggles to fire and is less successful.
Nevertheless, the first-rate cast in this production, under the assured direction of Ross Jolly, are able to find enough nuances and subtleties to contrast the real from stage life to make the play work.
Being on stage for most of the play and changing character and accent numerous times is a big ask, but Mason is up to the challenge and gives a stellar performance in the central role of She. As her counterpart, He, Daube brings a masculinity to the role, making it easy to see how the desires in She are re-ignited.
Also in the cast is Bruce Phillips, wonderfully epitomising the fussing director, trying to make it work so it will be right on the night, and Simon Leary is in his element as the bit player and understudy Henry, hamming it up with great finesse. These, along with Stephen Papps, Ria Simmons and Harriet Prebble round out the cast, in what is an entertaining piece of theatre about a subject often taken for granted.
Art Murmurs review by Aimee Smith 7 July 2016
Sarah Ruhl’s main topic of investigation in her 2014 comedy, Stage Kiss, is fairly obvious. As she herself says, “I really just wanted to write a play about actors kissing”. The act of acting is a curious thing, and the blurring of lines between the performance and reality is only too common. After all, we all know how Brangelina started. Ruhl expresses a clear interest in the absurdity of whole thing, particularly when stage kissing is involved – “How weird, to watch actors kiss. It’s their job, and what a wonderful job, to get to walk in and kiss attractive people all day, but also what a weird job”. And with the amount of dry, knowing chuckles emanating the audience on opening night seemed to say one clear thing – we’ve been there.
Ruhl wraps this curiosity around a fairly unenthralling premise. Two actors, known in the programme only as She and He, are cast as lovers in a “bad 1930s chesnut”. An awkward situation as is, matters are complicated by the passionate romance She and He were embroiled in fifteen years earlier. The trite melodrama of the play-within-the-play skirts and entwines with the real life dramas of She (Danielle Mason), He (Peter Daube), and the cast of supporting characters.
When condensed to a mere two-sentence plot summary, it fails to sound fresh, yet it’s a credit to both Ruhl and the team behind this Circa/NZ premiere production, that my conversations during the interval resounded around how we really, really didn’t quite know where this play would go next.On the whole, the plot is stretching it, as we see the characters behave rashly both on and off-stage in a matter I found difficult to swallow.
I had a few moments of raised eyebrows, but have to admit it’s that ability to dip into surrealism that makes Ruhl’s scripts so delightful. Topped with an above-average dose of sharp wit, the result is a frothy evening of entertainment, albeit one that sticks firmly with frivolity. In-jokes abound for the actors,writers and directors among us, particularly from a memorable performance by Bruce Phillips, in the role of the director of the shambolic play. In a world of characters that erred towards the overblown, Phillips gave the enthusiastic and flamboyant director an air of earnestness kept the character oddly grounded, paired with an ability to mimic directorial habits without making them seem cliched.
The entire cast do a superb job of mastering Ruhl’s script, keeping a cracking pace and fizzing energy which makes the two hour evening feel a lot shorter. She (Mason) managed to carve out a character with whom I quickly became onside, a task I didn’t expect to be achieved, at least for the first act. This sentiment rings true for the play as a whole.
The first half gets somewhat bogged down in the atrocious over-acting (a device used for the play-within-the-play, not a quality of the performers in general). Whilst this is undeniably amusing, at times the laughs felt cheaper than they needed to be, and some of the heart of the play gets lost beneath the comedy. The second act, which spends far more time with the characters off-stage and their feet on the ground, provides stronger moments where we can truly connect to the characters and get a sense of the wider themes. In particular, the moments between She and her teenage daughter, Angela (Harriet Prebble), plus Husband (Stephen Papps), bring a sincerity the play sometimes lacks.
The Stage Kiss Facebook event page goes for the advertising angle of “Make a date night for one of the hottest new plays to hit the stage.” This strikes me as being a fairly appropriate angle to take, all the talk of kissing aside. It’s light, it’s enjoyable, and you will likely leave and have a brief discussion on the play that will quickly segue into talking about something else. It’s a smart play which never tries to outsmart you, but will always entertain you. If you are after an evening of light laughs and slick, well-crafted theatre, Stage Kiss is a show not to be missed.
Stage Kiss is showing at Circa Theatre until July 30th.
Stage Kiss delights at Wellington’s Circa Theatre
Circa Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand, has staged a terrific production of Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss.
Taking a page out of the Venus in Fur playbook, Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss begins with an awkward audition. As the play unfolds, the lives of the actors and their characters in the play-within-a-play start to bleed into each other. Where Venus in Fur was a psycho-sexual exploration, Stage Kiss is a comedy about the artifice of the theatre and the performative nature of real life.
She (Danielle Mason) is auditioning for a revival of an absurd 1930s comedy of manners — a flop in its day — for a director (Bruce Philips) who refuses to direct, reading with a talentless actor, Kevin (Simon Leary), incapable of pretending to be someone else. Within seconds of walking into the audition, she finds herself repeatedly smooching Kevin, because the script requires it.
That they have to perform this intimate act casually when in any other circumstances it would be an uncomfortable breach of boundaries makes for many laughs. Ruhl exaggerates the situation by inventing a play which requires multiple smooches in this one scene — and then has the director instruct She and Kevin to signal the kisses during rehearsal with their hands instead of actually performing them.
If kissing someone you don’t know is an awkward part of an actor’s job, kissing someone you do know on stage while pretending you don’t know them is even more so. On the first day of rehearsals, She finds herself face-to-face with her ex-lover He (Peter Daubé), the one that got away.
He plays her extramarital lover in the play. Without the safety net of the company watching them perform, they can barely exchange civil words. But when rehearsing, they’re in a fugue state: able to kiss each other, passionately even, but with no repercussions. it doesn’t matter that She is married because it’s not entirely “real”. Even though it’s still their lips doing the kissing, they’re performing.
Working with a simple set of little more than a couch — or divan — and a couple of chairs in a smallish space in Wellington’s Circa Theatre, director Ross Jolly brings the text vividly to life. The backstage world feels as real as the stage, the rehearsal room, and the bachelor apartment where He lives. John Hodgkins’ set design and Sheila Horton’s costume design deliberately blur the lines between the decor and garments in the play-within-the-play and the “real” lives of the performers — borrowing from each other.
But it’s the terrific cast with impeccable comic timing, slipping easily into regional American accents, that sell the show and make this a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Danielle Mason as She is a standout, carefully balancing the vulnerability, coolness, and maturity behind the woman who recaptures her twenty-year-old self — for better and for worse — when she interacts with He.
Simon Leary is perfect as the flamboyant Kevin who never quite fits into the plays-within-the-play, and finds every laugh in the process. And Daubé finds just the right sexual chemistry with Mason without ever overtaking her or quite matching her, making their courtship believable as something with a strong pull that maybe should have been left in the past.
“He” and “She” Photo credit: Stephen ACourt
“knockabout farce that channels Noel Coward and Michael Frayn” – Chicago Tribune
“a lively blend of romantic comedy and backstage farce” – New York Times