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Copyright © 1994 The Seattle Times Company
Entertainment News : Monday, December 19, 1994

Successful `Kiss' offers trip to fantasy land
by Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Theatre Review: "Prelude to a Kiss" by Craig Lucas. Directed by David Hsieh. Produced by Repertory Actors Workshop, at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S.; Wednesdays-Sundays through December 31. 206-364-3283.

Just when you think "Prelude to a Kiss" is going to be nothing more (or less) than a hip little urban romance, playwright Craig Lucas zaps you into fantasy land.

But he does it with such thoughtfulness and buoyant grace that "Prelude to a Kiss" succeeds where so many other modern love stories - and fables of the supernatural - have failed or grated.

The whirlwind courtship of Peter and Rita starts off as a witty and understated spin on meeting cute and racing to the altar fast. Yet almost invisibly, it gathers force to become a sensitive meditation on immortality, commitment, and the mysteries of the heart.

Staged successfully on Broadway in 1990, the piece works best in its original home - the theater. There, no barrage of technical hocus-pocus is required for magic to happen. And miscasting in service of box office pull (Meg Ryan played Rita opposite Alec Baldwin in the so-so film version) is less likely.

The play comes through just fine in the modest yet affecting interracial production that Repertory Actors Workshop (ReAct) is offering at Theatre Off Jackson.

Under David Hsieh's direction, T.J. Langley fits comfortably into the rumpled, slightly shy, self deprecating role of Peter, a guy who takes one look at Colleen Parker's gamine Rita at a party, and gets moonstruck.

The two attractive young people quickly, sweetly tease each other inta a love affair. But despite their ability to go for it in storybook fashion, they are also children of their discontented age: underemployed, a touch cynical, and (in Rita's case) burdened by a keen awareness of injustice and cruelty.

Will they turn into a bickering middle-aged couple, like Rita's mother (Eloisa Cardona) and dentist father (Andrew Tripoli)? Will Rita gain enough faith in the planet to want her own children?

Lucas isn't about to tell us. Instead, he shakes up the happy-ever-after by engineering a fanciful bit of soul-swapping. Peter and Rita's wedding is interrupted with the appearance of a crotchety old man, dying of lung cancer (E. Dee Torrey). And through "divine" intervention of a fateful kiss, this fairy tale's frog, princess and prince consort all gain awareness.

The ReAct staging, performed on a minimal set, should pick up some speed. And though she's a pixie charmer, Parker doesn't quite convince us of her whopping case of insomnia and liberal guilt. (Though Rita's comment that "Those Democrats are such Republicans" get a bigger laugh now than it ever did.)

But Langley captures Peter's full tenderness, and reacts very believably to a string of perplexing and challenging events. His chemistry with Parker, and with Torrey (a longtime Shoreline Community College drama teacher whose Old Man is unusually courtly and endearing), are great strengths here.

The supporting actors operate at different skill levels. But most observe wise restraint, and Jim Abbott has some funny moments as Peter's best friend.

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Copyright © 1994 The Seattle Times Company. This page was reprinted with permission by ReAct.