Stockton Civic Theatre’s “Stage Kiss” Offers Playgoers More Than a Smooch

Summur Sinclair Braley, Brent Dirksen. Photo: Sierra Fraser
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner so the timing is perfect for you to abandon television’s politicians, crime reports and endless wars to go see “Stage Kiss,” now in its final week at the Stockton Civic Theatre. 
Not that this is a sweetheart of a romance. In fact, this kiss will take you where you don’t expect to go—behind the curtain and into the topsy-turvy world of actors torn between the demands of theatre and the obligations of reality. 
Quirky, kitschy and oddly amusing, “Stage Kiss” is the work of Sarah Ruhl, a playwright with an impish sense of humor, a talent for no-holds-barred satire and an evident desire to show us what we can’t begin to imagine about backstage shenanigans. 
As the old song says, “You must remember this, a kiss is but a kiss.” On the other hand, sometimes a kiss is an open door to chaos.
Playwright Ruhl utilizes a smooch to reunite two former lovers who meet by chance at a New Haven, Connecticut, audition years after their affair ended. They are not delighted to see one another, a clue that their previous relationship ended unhappily. But when their scripted stage kiss is the precursor to more kisses, guess what happens. 
You guessed it. The flame of passion is reignited. The two fall in love all over again, disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other. Where will the reconnection take them this time around? 
Jessica Delcid, Summur Sinclair Braley, Brent Dirksen. Photo: Sierra Fraser
One of the most unusual plays you’re likely to see this year (or any other), “Stage Kiss” debuted in Chicago in 2011 and opened off-Broadway in 2014. The Stockton Civic Theatre production stars Summur Sinclair Braley and Brent A. Dirksen as the couple in question and Mike Kiley as their oddball director. Kiley plays his role for laughs–a nervous director without a clue as to quality and eager to revive a forgettable 1930s melodrama ironically entitled “The Last Kiss.”  Maybe he’s a little too eager and a little too optimistic.
“With the proper cast, a new musical score, and some judicious cuts, it will really be very well received in New Haven,” he insists. Broadway, here I come! 
If, however, the melodrama doesn’t quite work as intended, our enterprising director has another brilliant idea. How about inflicting his own play on the hapless actors? 
Not surprisingly, the director’s play (“I Loved You Before I Killed You”) is far worse than the melodrama. When it is unveiled in act two, the setting moves from 1930s chic to a grimy and garbage-cluttered, low-rent apartment where anything goes (and does). You may also overhear  audience members near you asking “What’s going on here?” 
Summur Sinclair Braley, Michael Kiley, Brent Dirksen. Photo: Sierra Fraser
One such puzzle is the apparently incurable habit the actress has of falling for leading men. This flaw of character hasn’t terminated the love and support of a husband (played by Ben Wimer) who is handsome, dapper, wealthy and forgiving—everything her current leading man is not.  “Why would she fall for someone like that?” a playgoer asked about that leading man. 
Why indeed. You may find yourself wishing our heroine can acquire enough common sense this time around to declare “We are never, never ever getting back together again!” Even if she learns her lesson, will good intentions prevail the next time a leading man plants a stage kiss?
If you wish to ponder what game Ruhl is playing here and quench the thirst such mystery inspires, consider doing so during intermission at the theatre’s lobby refreshment stand where SCT offers a signature cocktail called The Kiss, composed of vanilla vodka, pineapple juice and raspberry schnapps ($10). Or try the less challenging chocolate martini shot ($5), a mix of chocolate liqueur, Baileys and vanilla vodka, topped off with–hold your breath—whipped cream.     
I returned to my seat to discover whether the bumbling thespians and their ragtag theatre company could solve their problems or lose themselves in the fun-filled frolic of a theatrical farce. You’ll have to decide which, if you can.
“Just when I thought I was getting it, it got away,” a theatergoer confessed when the smoke cleared. “Maybe I should see it again to figure out what I missed.”
Antonio Munoz. Photo: Sierra Fraser
That’s one option. You can also talk it over with fellow spectators to determine whether Ruhl had a deeper purpose in mind than teasing her audience with the comedy of actors trying to find their way in and out of roles. The stage-bound world they inhabit is, after all, an illusion. What are the chances actors can ever make themselves at home in the reality of the world as it is?  
All of which recalled for me the time, many years ago, when I interviewed a film actress who confessed that whenever the camera stopped rolling and the lights dimmed, the question that arose in her mind was “Who am I supposed to be now?” 
As for the further misadventures of our wayward heroine, the ending of “Stage Kiss” may leave you wondering if the end is, well, truly the end. Until next time?
If you intend to see the play, and are thinking of taking your young ones, think twice. Be advised it is intended for mature audiences due to  adult content and language. But if you enjoy the wit of a staging where theater itself is the subject and the predicament of actors is the plot, this is your play. Fasten your seat belt and get set for a bumpy ride. The one thing “Stage Kiss” manages not to be is predictable soap opera.
“Stage Kiss”
Where: Stockton Civic Theatre, 2312 Rosemarie Lane
When:  February 1-February 4
Times: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.  Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $29. Seniors, $24, Students, $17. Saturday date night special: any two tickets for $31     
Box office information:  (209) 473-2424

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  • I had a great time reading your review! I liked your narration of the play and the perspective of the audience members. It was cool to witness the play from different viewpoints. I like the idea of the play within a play and losing yourself within a character.

  • Howard, you seemed to have explained the unexplainable quite well, and, bye the way, whenever I’ve seen a play such as what you’ve described, I’ve blaimed myself and wondered what part I somehow missed.

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