Life Imitates Art Imitates Life in “Stage Kiss”

by Chloe Loos

Stage Kiss at Live Theatre Workshop is a play about actors, which often leads to a sense of self-absorbed narcissism that by nature of its topic excludes casual theatre-goers. But that is not the case here. Sarah Ruhl’s amazing script toes the line between commentary on art and commentary on love, in a comedic way that ensures the audience will not be left behind on more theatre-specific jokes — though if you are involved with theatre, it is that much better.

Shanna Brock and Stephen Frankenfeld in Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Shanna Brock as She and Stephen Frankenfeld as He. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The play opens with a woman called She (Shanna Brock) auditioning for her first play in years in that insecure, “do-I-belong-here” way that follows many artists throughout their career. She continues to take this hesitancy through rehearsals, although she finds power in slamming her co-star, her ex, He (Stephen Frankenfeld). The stage kisses lead to off-stage kisses as the two rekindle their romance at the end of the first act, leading to She leaving her husband and child and He breaking up with his girlfriend. The duo are accompanied by a colorful roster of well-costumed talent (Michael Woodson, Janey Roby, and Matthew Copely) playing double-cast characters, the most amusing of all being Keith Wick, who utilizes riotous physical comedy and a variety of different voices to great effect. Jubilee Reynolds as Angela, She’s daughter, was also extremely enjoyable as she caught a very relatable “over-it” attitude while speaking truth to the dysfunctional situation her family finds itself in.

The staging was artfully done; a well-designed rotating set takes the audience from the audition room to opening night to She and He’s apartment to another stage. I especially enjoyed the lighting (by Richard Gremel) throughout as it helped indicate place and was a prominent feature in a couple of surreal dream sequences. While rather minimalist, the scene changes took far too long and I found myself listening to the intermittent music (performed by female pop-stars) more than I would have liked. My other difficulty within the piece was the sense of displacement, as I could never quite figure out what time the play was set, nor the timeline of the action.

The cast of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The cast of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

As a melodrama within a drama, Sarah Ruhl frequently blurs the lines of what is truth and what is acting in the piece, thus sending her characters through the wringer with regards to emotions. I think in this it was obvious that most of these actors are comedic players as – while they nailed the quick-paced dialogue and I was audibly laughing through a good 60% of the piece – the moments of genuine emotion were not at the forefront. I was left wanting more of those tender moments that permeate a true relationship.

Overall, I was really excited to see Live Theatre Workshop bring this play to its stage as it felt more contemporary and challenging than most of what I expect their programming to be, featuring adultery, profanity, and, of course, lots of kissing. The fall, rise, and plateau of She and He’s relationship was beautifully structured, particularly as we learn more about their history and hear She reinforce the idea that He was scary, “went through [her] phone,” and that they left each other for a reason. In demystifying the “what-if” of their relationship, Ruhl also demystifies the romance of theatre as they lament that they need the money to be a in a play that features She in the role of a mistreated “whore.” However, in context of clarifying the lack of allure in the relationship and theatre, it is only offensive in the way intended by the script.

However, in a play set first in New Haven (which is only 43% white) then Detroit (which is only 10% white), we again see the lack of diversity on stage in a play about a play, thus doubling the removal of people of color from roles on stage. The evening I attended the theater was completely full and every single audience member was white. This proved to be incredibly uncomfortable for me in a questionable scene in the Detroit portion of the play in which an actor played the role of a pimp that was coded as black (through an unfortunate coat, gold chain, posturing, demeanor, etc.). This is why it is so important to diversify productions in order to avoid reiterating harmful stereotypes. Especially when looking at the statistics I included above, it seems to me that at least half of the roles could have and should have been filled by actors of color. While I don’t think the implications were intentional, this shows what can happen in the macrocosm of theatre if we continue to keep the same (white) voices in the echo chamber of production.

If you like theatre and if you like plays about theatre or plays about love or plays about life, get down to Live Theatre Workshop and see Stage Kiss. It runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Nights at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm, and a final Saturday 3pm on closing, February 16th.

Tickets can be purchased by calling (520) 327-4242 or online at livetheatreworkshop.tix.com.

After Centuries, the Damsel in Distress is Finally Given Her Voice in Eurydice

Kate Cannon and Adam Denoyer in Eurydice. Photo Tim Fuller

Adam Denoyer as Orpheus and Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

by Betsy Labiner

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s Season for Scoundrels is off to a strong start. Their opening production is Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, which reinterprets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by turning the focus away from Orpheus and onto Eurydice. Knowledge of the myth isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for seeing and enjoying this play, but personally, I found it fascinating to have the source material reexamined, challenged, and given nuance.

Director Claire Marie Mannle points out the peripheral role traditionally played by Eurydice in the story: “Usually the myth of Orpheus is seen from the viewpoint of the man, Orpheus, and his heroic but tragic journey. His wife Eurydice has little influence in the original versions of the myth. This play takes a chisel to that and breaks it open. It is all about Eurydice, her choices, her journey, her voice. Eurydice’s voice starts and ends this play.”* In modern pop culture studies, we’d essentially say the original myth engages in “fridging.” The term “Women in Refrigerators” was initially coined by writer Gail Simone in regard to comic books, and it refers to trope in which female characters are injured, raped, killed, or depowered – women that are, more often than not, victimized in order to catalyze a man’s story or character development. Essentially, in the original myth, Eurydice serves as a plot device and is fridged in order for Orpheus’s story to unfold. Not so here.

Mannle foregrounds Eurydice, played by Kathleen Cannon, from the outset. She has the first dialogue, is subtly placed in front of Orpheus, and is immediately charming. Everything about her is vibrant and engaging, constantly calling the audience’s attention back to her even as Orpheus rhapsodizes about his music. Orpheus, played by Adam Denoyer, is initially something of a harder sell as a character; he is distracted and inadvertently dismissive of Eurydice, though his love for her is evident even in his moments of apparent self-absorption. As the play progresses and Orpheus sinks into despair, Denoyer’s performance becomes more and more compelling. His pain is palpable, and stands in stark contrast to Eurydice’s delighted engagement with (re)learning and experience in her new realm.

Cannon’s Eurydice is literally a spark of life in the underworld. Eurydice’s confusion is matched by her determination and exuberance, and she literally glows against the muted backdrop of the underworld. In addition to Cannon’s captivating performance, the costuming, designed by Allison Morones, is another success in this manner, particularly in its interaction with the lighting and set design (Josh Hemmo; Jason Jamerson). Hemmo’s lighting shifts between a yellow-orange spectrum for the living and a blue-green tint for the dead, with characters in the underworld dressed in dark or muted tones. Eurydice’s red dress and hair stand out in the underworld, markers of her liveliness and vigor despite the circumstances. This is juxtaposed with the costuming and lighting of her father, played by Bill Epstein, on whom a grey suit and white lighting serve to make him much more intangible and ephemeral when not actively next to Eurydice. 

The Stones, played by Julia Balestracci, Leah Taylor, and Gretchen Wirges, were another delight. Their haughty disapproval for much of the play is heightened by the sound effects used on their voices, making them resonant and even more forceful. Their reactions both offer comedic asides and heighten the tension, particularly in moments such as when the Nasty Interesting Man walks onstage and each woman’s posture pulls taut. The Nasty Interesting Man, played with smarmy malice by Ryuto Adamson, offers both laughs and anxiety, as Adamson continually reasserts his power and revels in the control he exerts.

Kate Cannon leads the cast of Eurydice. Photo2 TIM FULLER

Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Mannle’s production gives Eurydice life and depth, making her a real person to be loved and grieved. For Mannle, this is crucial not only in terms of our understanding of the characters and their stories, but also to reassess our own stories and those of the people surrounding us.  “It seems vitally important (perhaps now more than ever) that we tell old stories with new voices, voices that struggle to be heard,” Mannle explained. “I think it is critical that we amplify the voices of women and voices of people that have been historically marginalized and listen to them so that we can build a better world. Hopefully, this performance offers something to continue that conversation.”

Eurydice runs through October 28 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets are $28 general admission, with discounts available for students, educators, and patrons under the age of 30.

Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by phone at 520-448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before each show. The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre is located in the Historic Y, at 738 N. 5th Avenue.

*Quotes from Mannle are sourced from promotional materials provided by the Theatre.

 

Editor’s Note: Betsy Labiner is a box office assistant at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. While she had no input or involvement with the creative process for this production and reviewed this play as she would one at any theatre, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.