Kiss and Cry
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 12, 2006
Up until its very last scene, Kiss and Cry is a smart, entertaining, timely play. And then in its final moments, it transcends all that and achieves something like lasting greatness. Sometimes one little speech is all it takes.
The resonance of this piece—especially this particular week (Kiss and Cry played its first performance at Theater Ten Ten on the same night as the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turino)—is strong and clear. It's about a young ice skater named Stacy who is in training for the Olympics. He and his partner Brittany are champions in the figure skating pairs event, and as the play progresses they are moving through national competitions toward a place on the American Olympic team. Brittany, 16, is the daughter of ambitious, fundamentalist Christian parents who took in the orphaned Stacy (now 20) years ago; all would be hunky-dory for everyone concerned except—and he hasn't admitted this out loud to anybody yet—Stacy is gay.
Kiss and Cry is also about Fiona, a 20-something actress who has just made her first Hollywood film, "Vampire Campus," and is on the brink of movie-stardom. She is currently in a relationship with Lauren, a radical lesbian playwright who works diligently off-off-Broadway making meaningful art, usually in the form of plays written for Fiona. But Fiona's rising demand (first for a sequel, "Vampire Campus 2: Sophomore Year," and then for a prestigious picture with an A-list director) interferes with Lauren's plans and their relationship is being severely tested.
And then Fiona gets a Great Idea.
Fiona and Stacy meet sort-of cute in the very first scene of Kiss and Cry, at a Hollywood party celebrating the release of "Vampire Campus." Both are feeling somewhat out-of-place and an easy acquaintanceship is quickly struck up. Fiona confides in Stacy that she's gay; he doesn't, but she senses it anyway and, knowing he's a "safe" escort, she asks him to walk her out of the party. When this innocent pairing yields a little bit of media attention, Fiona becomes inspired. Why not let the world believe that the two are dating?
The ruse proves easy to pull off and highly beneficial to the careers of both. So much so that they become America's Sweethearts of the moment. Stacy sails toward his Olympic dreams and Fiona lands the movie that could well get her the Oscar she so covets. It's all good, except for the fact that it's a lie.
I'm not going to tell you what happens next, except that it's more complicated and lifelike than the setup might lead you to expect. What makes Kiss and Cry so joltingly brilliant is that playwright Tom Rowan avoids the easy way out of his story and focuses instead on what's genuine, true, and important. A line from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George keeps coming back into my head when I think about this play: "Work is what you do for others, liebchen / Art is what you do for yourself." This sentiment, as much as anything else, is what's at the heart of Rowan's work: the idea that the thing that's right is the thing that's authentically yours. And that knockout, totally-out-of-left-field final scene shores up the point.
Theater Ten Ten is to be congratulated heartily for stretching itself in presenting this play, which in its contemporary themes and mode is something of a departure for them. Kevin Newbury's production is excellent, thanks to a highly effective set by Robert Monaco, splendidly appropriate costumes (and lots of them!) by Joanne Haas, successful lighting design by Diana Kesselschmidt, and expert sound by Robert Gould. The Ten Ten playing space is perhaps a bit too intimate for the play, forcing Newbury and his actors to sometimes pull back from some of the bigger, hotter emotions that flare up from time to time. But it's great to see the piece up (and I hope some savvy off-Broadway producers see it here as well, en route to moving it to a larger house and a longer run).
The cast is excellent, with acting honors particularly going to the three women in the company. Elizabeth Cooke is entirely convincing as the older-than-her-years, slightly spoiled Brittany. Nell Gwynn is astonishingly right as the self-righteous, proud, and unyielding Lauren (her versatility is impressive, too: I just saw her last month in Candy & Dorothy, also directed by Newbury, in as different a role as you could imagine). Julie Leedes nevertheless steals our hearts (and almost steals the show) as Fiona, against the odds since Fiona is such a shallow, thoroughly reprehensible opportunist (and neither Rowan, Newbury, nor Leedes pulls any punches on this point). Leedes has what Elinor Glyn called "It," which makes her perfect for Fiona (who also has "It"). I'll be watching for her to break out in whatever career direction she sets her mind to.
Not to slight the men: David Lavine does outstanding work as Stacy, capturing his naivete, his earnestness, and his deep and unabiding love for his sport. Reed Prescott earns our empathy throughout with his affecting performance as Ethan, a fellow skater whose destiny gets wrapped up with Stacy's in several unforeseen ways. Timothy Dunn, however, is less effective as Trent, Stacy's boyfriend, giving away the character's callowness a little too soon, I think.
In a world that increasingly (and, it seems to me, paradoxically) likes to trade in both gossip and judgment, the themes of Kiss and Cry feel enormously important. This is theatre doing what it does best: entertaining us while making us question what we think we know about the status quo. I advise you not to pass it by.