Prelude to a Kiss
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
March 10, 2007
Roundabout Theatre Company's new revival of Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss is tasteful but uninspired. Director Daniel Sullivan's politely acted production shows an all-around lack of imagination and takes all the surprise and fun out of a script that has plenty of both. Lucas's romanticism and off-kilter world view remain intact, but no one here seems able enough to serve them.
Set in modern day Manhattan, Prelude to a Kiss tells the story of Peter and Rita, who meet cute at a friend's party. He has a boring job in medical publishing, and she's a bartender with insomnia. Neither of them is remarkably ambitious, but they find common ground on a number of subjects (Freud's case histories, Rita's brief tenure as a Socialist, etc.). They hit it off right away, and begin a whirlwind romance that culminates in wedding bells within only a few months. They would seem to be the perfect match, but on their honeymoon Rita visibly changes. She becomes more gaudy and insensitive, brusque and outgoing. This is not the cautious, more thoughtful Rita that Peter is used to. What's happened to her?
Well, anyone who's read the press release synopsis knows what's happened. Roundabout's marketing department has seen fit to give away the show's twist right up front, and Sullivan's production follows suit. From the moment Rita kisses a mysterious Old Man at her wedding reception there's never any doubt that their souls have switched bodies, nor is there any doubt that Peter and Rita will figure out a solution and live happily ever after. The only thing about this Prelude that's keeps the audience is guessing is how long it'll take Peter to figure this entire thing out (here's a hint: at least a third of the way into Act II).
I cannot imagine why the powers that be would want to defuse Prelude's power and suspense, but there is tell-tale foreshadowing all over the stage. Set designer Santo Loquasto and lighting designer Donald Holder create an unusually dark mise-en-scene that anticipates the play's darker second act, but does nothing for its romantic first act. Sullivan also gives the Old Man a couple of unscripted appearances prior to his pivotal one at the wedding that add nothing to the play. There is nothing light or bouncy—the way new love is—about this Prelude.
The show's casting presents another problem. All three of the main characters, while likable, are a little offbeat, and require actors with a similar sensibility. Alas, John Mahoney, Annie Parisse, and Alan Tudyk, three gifted and talented actors, do not share that sensibility and come off as woefully miscast. One can see them "acting" the entire time, and they never seem anything more than deliberately studied. The only cast members who are allowed to tap into Prelude's funky energy (and I say "allowed" because this looks like a specific directorial decision) are Robin Bartlett and James Rebhorn as Rita's parents. They bring a much-needed jolt of levity and irreverence to this somber production every time they're on stage.
Considering how many skilled and able theatre artists are involved with this production, Prelude to a Kiss is a major disappointment. Roundabout Theatre Company can do much better than this. Lord knows Lucas's play deserves it.