Howard Community College’s Arts Collective closes its 18th season with their production of Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss. Directed by Darius K. McKeiver, this odd romantic comedy takes the audience on a bit of a fantastical journey into the lives of your average American couple who twirl through a whirlwind romance that waltzes them down the aisle in less than two months. But when a mysterious old man arrives at the wedding, asking to kiss the bride, it doesn’t take long for things to shake up. Just one kiss has the soul of the old man and the young bride switching bodies and chaos ensues as the newlyweds attempt their honeymoon.
Set and Video Designer Terry Cobb bring a magnificent elegance to the story that unfolds upon the stage. Crafting a set built on platform risers Cobb clearly delineates the urban hipster apartment from the bar where Rita works with detailed spacing and a number of impressive furnishings. But Cobb’s gem is his video projection work. Hung over the stage at various heights and in various sizes are enormous projection screens, each of which displays a series of rotating projected images that change with the scenes. For the honeymoon in the islands there are brilliant tropical pictures of tranquil beaches and crystal clear seas. And when the characters transition back and forth from the cityscape of Rita’s apartment to her parents place out in suburbia the images reflect these setting changes. Cobb’s brilliant use of varying photo imagery helps to split the scene and allow for an ease of dual settings on stage simultaneously.
Sound Designer Ashanti Cooper and Sound Effects Designer Dave Harton enhance the performance with perfect selections of modern and older music as well as subtle sound effects, all of which match each moment with precision. There are gentle waves lulling during the honeymoon scene in the islands and birds to accompany the outdoor wedding. Cooper’s musical selection, including the songs played during the wedding dance, drive emotions into the scene and enhance the audience’s understanding of what’s really happening.
Director Darius K. McKeiver, unfortunately, does not succeed in instilling a sense of comic delivery and timing into the cast, resulting in a rather dry and drawn out rendition of this play. The pacing is off, but not so much because it drags between events, but because the comic elements in what is meant to be a witty and engaging comedy, are simply absent. There are moments, particularly during the wedding scene and when Rita’s parents are first encountered, which are meant to be laughable (as indicated by the text) but the actors’ delivery never lands correctly.
The major moment of soul-swapping transition happens in the blink of an eye -without any real attention drawn to the immediate event itself – so those not watching extremely carefully may not follow what has happened until much later in the show.
The ensemble gives a rather banal performance, especially during the wedding scene where there is meant to be merriment and cheer but instead everyone ends up standing around looking lost. Dr. Boyle (Eric Small) and Mrs. Boyle (Ilene Chalmers) do have a bit of wit and make for some amusing situational humor when it comes to their scenes shared together. Small and Chalmers don’t’ share any real chemistry but this actually enhances their performance on stage because of the nature of their marriage. Small’s interactions with Peter are less impressive than those of Chalmers, who engages with him in a most becoming mother-in-law fashion.
The three principle performers hold their own in this long production managing to carve out respectable existences in the modern New York universe. Rita (Keri Eastridge) at first comes across as an ordinary woman with a few quirks. But her performance kicks it into high gear after the switch occurs. Embodying some of the vocal and subtle physical traits of the ‘old man’ counterpart she’s meant to have now trapped inside of her, Eastridge’s performance becomes engaging and fascinating to watch as she struggles with trying to keep her secret from her newlywed husband.
Peter (Jon Kevin Lazarus) is a compelling actor right from the beginning. With a keen sense of narrative, he guides the audience through the gaps in the scenes with a welcoming voice and a knowing understanding of how to hold their attention. His physicality is fully engaged whenever he’s on stage and each response to another character is charged with an emotion even if some are more subtle than others. His emotional expressions both facially and vocally are the best in the production; he becomes a real character that the audience wants to sympathize for and empathize with.
The Old Man (Bill Stanley) takes home the trophy for best performance. Stanley gives a riveting performance starting first as a doddering old man who quickly becomes Rita after the switch. From his tone of voice to the way he expresses certain words it’s clear that he’s portraying a confused and frightened woman trapped inside the body of an old man. Stanley has the best comic execution of the entire cast, his joke and laugh lines receiving the most recognition. And his physical endeavors during scenes in the apartment make for quite a spectacle.
Keep your eye on Brenna Horner who appears briefly in the second act as Leah, the old man’s daughter. While her appearance is extremely minor, in a shocking twist to the plot she delivers a stunning amount of emotional turmoil in just a few words leaving the audience both moved and shocked.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Prelude to a Kiss plays through May 19, 2013 at Arts Collective@HCC in the Howard Community College Studio Theatre — 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (443) 518-1922, or purchase them online.