The drama at the heart of Stage Kiss, the Sarah Ruhl comedy at Twilight Theater Company, can be summed up with a simple question She asks He near the middle of the play: When we kissed, did it feel like “an actor kissing an actor or a person kissing a person?”
That’s a real dilemma in this over-the-top comedy about ex-lovers suddenly reunited after many years when they’re surprisingly cast in leading roles in an over-the-top comedy about ex-lovers suddenly reunited after many years when Ada (She’s character in the play within the play) is diagnosed with a month to live.
Kristen Paige, a new arrival in Portland, plays She/Ada, who is on stage for nearly every moment of this production. She carries the play with magnetism and energy from the moment she stumbles on stage for an awkward audition with the play’s director (Christopher Ruggles), performing opposite Kevin (Jason Fox, who always seemed on the verge of cracking up on opening night, which might have been on purpose; even if it wasn’t, it worked well for his nervous theater-wannabe character).
Her awkward audition and work opposite Kevin helps enhance the chemistry between Paige and her leading man, played by Rob Kimmelman. The leads surpass community theater expectations with more than just their on-stage chemistry: They each speak in at least two intentionally hammy accents; they both have to sing and dance (He on crutches, even); and She does a number of quick changes (one is a quick change about a quick change, of course).
The staging – changing the elaborate sets designed by Derek Lane and Josiah Green quickly while the lights are down – and comedic timing are spot-on (the play was directed by Matt Gibson), and the supporting cast is solid. Tony Domingue and Jayne Ruppert steal their scenes as She’s loving but no-nonsense husband and daughter, respectively (Domingue plays Ada’s husband and Ruppert plays her daughter in the play within a play, too, just in case you weren’t quite confused enough yet about the blurry lines between the play you’re watching and the one you’re watching within the one you’re watching). But confusion is part of the delight in Stage Kiss.
Speaking of confusion, back to all the kissing: Paige stoically kisses the majority of her castmates (four out of six, by my count) for the enjoyment of the audience. Kissing, in Stage Kiss, is passionate, disgusting, hilarious, painful, surprising, confusing, and comforting. The play asks the question: When is a kiss between actors more than acting? That is something audiences may never learn to distinguish – but Stage Kiss gives a multitude of opportunities to try.
Stage Kiss continues through March 25 at Twilight Theater Company, 75 N. Brandon Ave., Portland. Ticket and schedule information here.