All lovers fear that one day the beloved will not recognize her or him — that some bodily impediment, or the inevitable, irreversible change to the body’s ephemeral beauty, will blind the beloved to the invisible, immortal soul of love. It works the other way, too — the beloved may change, or appear to change, so that the lover can no longer recognize this person as soul’s companion and heart’s desire. Fear of such change is so pervasive and untamable that it has generated innumerable stories, books, movies, and plays — fables all. A refreshing modern version is currently on stage at Common Ground Theatre, with Ghost & Spice Productions’ Prelude to a Kiss.
Craig Lucas’ 1988 play holds up well. Written during the first high horror of the AIDS epidemic, it engendered considerable speculation that it was really about the beautiful young men disappearing into prematurely aged and ravaged bodies, to the helpless rage and sorrow of their lovers. It is written with a male/female couple at the center of the story, but love being love it could work with any combination of people. In this case, the young man, Peter Hoskins, is played by the sweetly saturnine Tony Hughes (memorable last year as Charon the Boatman in Dog from Hell — if you must take that last ride, best to do it looking at a handsome face), and the insomniac bartender Rita Boyle by Melissa Lozoff, who puts her high-strung energy to excellent use during the pair’s rapid courtship and sudden marriage.
It won’t be giving away the story too much to tell you that, moments after the wedding, a wizened stranger (the ever-remarkable Jordan Smith) stumbles into the hall and wants to kiss the bride. He gets dizzy, and is escorted out … but something has happened during that kiss. The bride and the stranger don’t look any different, but the stranger’s soul has taken up lodging in the bride’s body. While she wanders away looking like an old man, he goes on her honeymoon, where the changes in his/her behavior freak out her new husband not a little.
As Peter tries to figure out what the heck is going on, he tries to describe the situation to his friend — Rita is doing everything almost right, but some things are so different, so not her — that he becomes convinced that she is not there in her body. Sadly, Hughes and Lozoff are doing everything almost right as their characters; but on Saturday night at least, the chemistry was not all there in their bodies.
Still, although it doesn’t quite sizzle, this is Ghost & Spice’s brand of literate, thinking-person’s theater, and in the speeches the play’s ideas come across beautifully under Rachel Klem’s keen-eared direction. The timing and flow of the play seemed a little jerky, but will undoubtedly smooth themselves out as the run continues, aided by the interesting songs of the Pneurotics that weave through Becca Easley’s sound design.
The supporting roles are well-handled. John Honeycutt and Martha Brown are very funny as Rita’s parents. Geraud Staton is a pleasure, as usual, letting a few dangerous edges show under his amiable front. He has a rich voice, and uses it well. The only problem is, he is so physically distinctive that when he is double-cast, as here, one’s first thought on seeing the second character is, huh?
Michelle Byars returns to Ghost & Spice (which she co-founded) for a triple-casting. She is particularly good as the Old Man’s daughter Leah, as baffled as anyone at the peculiar changes in his behavior after the magic kiss. Jordan Smith’s delicate performance as the Old Man/Rita is very fine, especially as the story comes around to its happy conclusion. In the end, Prelude to a Kiss is a restorative tonic reminder that, love those bodies as we may, they will change, and what we really love is hidden inside.
Prelude to a Kiss continues at Common Ground Theatre through January 23. See our theatre calendar for details.