The line between art and life become colorfully blurred when two actors are unexpectedly reunited in Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl’s romantic backstage comedy Stage Kiss, which made its regional opening premiere last night at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre.
Set on a transitional, rotating stage (expansively designed by Tony Cisek), a nameless pair of performers, known only as “He” (Gregory Wooddell) and “She” (Dawn Ursula), are long-estranged lovers who find themselves, on the first day of rehearsal for a revival of a 1930s melodrama where they are cast as amorous leads. Initially, He and She are horrified at the thought of having to spend time in the same room, let alone get physical. After having to kiss repeatedly on-stage, their old passion is rekindled and the happenings off-stage begin to parallel the plot of the play.
Director Aaron Posner skillfully segues between the cleverly constructed play-within-a-play framework which features a gifted comedic ensemble of seven talented actors who are each based in the DC area.
Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Dawn Ursula is dynamic and exuberant as the conflicted She. Commanding powerful stage presence and exercising refined comedic timing, Ursula is convincing as an intense, but well-intentioned woman who delicately teeters between reality and make-belief. Employing precise body language and transparent facial expressions, Ursula leaves a lasting impression, particularly when She shares that living without her first love makes her feel like a “ghost person”.
Gregory Wooddell’s He is charmingly confident, artfully blending sparkling swagger with a dash of uncertainty, pointedly pivoting in and out of reality. Wooddell also effectively renders him to be sympathetic and endearing, appealing to all those who encounter him.
Todd Scofield is the incredibly insightful and stalwart husband – the adult who is grounded in reality – who reminds us that marriage is about repetition, the sun coming up and going down each day, but romance is everything but repetition. Scofield drives the emotional narrative in a poetic and poignant matter that touchingly resonates.
Posner draws exaggeratedly entertaining performances from the stellar supporting cast: Craig Wallace as the sublimely, self-important stage director; Michael Glenn as an eager, but untested, understudy; Rachel Zampelli as the perky, too nice girlfriend (garnering lingering laughs with her enunciated Midwestern accent); and Tyasia Velines as the outraged, no nonsense teenager.
Wickedly witty and perplexingly provoking, Round House’s Stage Kiss is a uniquely earnest and elegant production that seamlessly navigates the twists and turns of love and romance with heart and soul.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission.
John Stoltenberg reviews ‘Stage Kiss’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.