An entertaining evening of funny, odd
Who: Fine Arts Center
Cast: Cynthia Pohlson, Kyle Dean Steffen, Sol Chavez, Jane Fromme, David Hastings, Hossein Forouzandeh, Adam Blancas, Kathy Paradise, Jonathan Eberhardt, Miriam Roth Ballard, John Butz
Playwright: Craig Lucas
Director: Garrett Ayers
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, including one intermission
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, through Feb. 17
Where: Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $18-$37; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org
They say that marriage changes a relationship.
“Prelude to a Kiss” couldn’t make that point any clearer, although the reasons aren’t as simple as standard disagreements over money, career or children. In Craig Lucas’ play, Rita (Cynthia Pohlson) and Peter (Kyle Dean Steffen) fall apart because Rita just isn’t herself anymore.
In fact, she’s an old man (Sol Chavez), who makes the transfer during a post-wedding kiss. Rita, in turn, finds herself in the body of the old man.
Now that’s a memorable wedding reception.
Directed by Garrett Ayers, “Prelude” is briskly paced, funny and gleefully odd. Not deep, but entertaining.
Written in 1988, the Tony-winning play, which was also a Pulitzer finalist, has been considered a metaphor for the devastation of AIDS. That interpretation is certainly readable here. But, as it did when it opened, “Prelude” mostly speaks to essentials of being human. Love, devotion, loss, aging and, ultimately, death. That’s powerful stuff, which is too often diluted by the lighthearted treatment of this production.
As Peter, Steffen creates a self-reflective character who is also charmingly unsure of himself. Steffen deftly renders the subtle colors of head-over-heels, nervous, baffled, overwhelmed, annoyed, paranoid and resigned. It’s impossible not to like the character. Peter’s journey to reconcile his love (for the woman he knew) and his revulsion (for the body she now inhabits) is entertaining and, at times, a little uncomfortable.
Chavez pulls off the most successful hat trick of the evening by refusing to craft a crass caricature of a woman. That means no tenuous falsetto. Or a pin-up girl walk. Instead, he builds the illusion of Rita in the small stuff — the way he holds his hands as he walks and the modest position of his feet and knees when he sits. And his eyes, which are wide, flighty and somehow very feminine. I believed him-her, which makes Peter’s dilemma all the more stark.
Pohlson’s Rita is less polished. Her bartender with a nihilistic world view seems forced at times, and her feminine gestures ungrounded. While her Old Man suffers from the same affliction, Pohlson seems more comfortable as Rita’s alter ego, which she reveals in a grumpy voice, broad gestures, an occasional potbelly and other gestures. She hits the most authentic note in a scene at the play’s end, when she (as the Old Man) and Chavez (as Rita) get the recent news of the lives they left behind.
David Hastings doesn’t have a big role as Dr. Boyle, but nevertheless, he makes Rita’s dad memorable by consistently striking this play’s crucial balance between the real and sitcom pat. In one terrific moment, Peter catches Boyle as he’s trying to escape the newlywed’s apartment with some of Rita’s clothing. As Peter tries to persuade his father-in-law to see the truth about Rita, Hastings subtly shows us everything about this moment: his character’s fondness for Peter; his discomfort about his appointed task; his determination to get it done for his daughter. And as both shield and battering ram, the suitcase he’s holding is barometer for it all.