Repertory Philippines’ “Stage Kiss” gets most of its laughs from the line that separates performance and reality.
In telling the story of an out-of-practice stage actress (Missy Maramara) becoming scene partners with her ex (Tarek El Tayech), the play finds much comedy in the eerie similarities between the characters’ private lives and the roles they play. It’s less successful, however, at interrogating what these similarities mean for a group of characters who are difficult to root for.
Still, economical direction and a golden performance from Maramara make “Stage Kiss” a pleasant diversion.
Much of the production’s charm comes from its sincere treatment of Sarah Ruhl’s farcical script. The two plays-within-the-play that the characters become involved in are deliberately made to look terrible: one is a bland potboiler drama, the other is an unsupervised work of provocation.
But the larger play that the audience gets to see restrains itself from exaggerating its comedic routines. As far as this production is concerned, the characters are still doing honest work. They may not necessarily like the material they have, but they aren’t about to object to getting paid for it.
The show’s sincerity also comes through in Ohm David’s simple set design—adopting the look and feel of a television sitcom—as well as in PJ Rebullida’s choreography and Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s tame direction. For the most part, “Stage Kiss” pulls off the illusion that we’re only watching people rehearse, building the world of a narrative out of nothing.
However, the illusion doesn’t last and the tameness of the production begins to feel like a missed opportunity, especially by its latter half. “Stage Kiss” unfortunately isn’t able to do much with Act 2’s detailed set and stunt choreography—making the second play-within-a-play look much less audacious than the script claims.
But “Stage Kiss” is also limited by how often its characters err on the side of selfishness. The longer the show runs, the harder it becomes to find a justification for their immature and careless behavior.
And apart from a couple of pointed exchanges on the nature of acting, there are precious few insights into how the aforementioned line between performance and reality can blur. And when remorse and self-reflexivity eventually arrive, they come as a result of manipulation, nonchalantly waved away by the end of the story.
The play is funny, for sure, but it can be disappointing to see it operate mostly as a relationship comedy and not as anything much deeper. Ruhl’s central romance isn’t terribly convincing, and no matter how many other characters are introduced, there is little to challenge one’s belief that the protagonists of “Stage Kiss” just aren’t good for each other. The show thrives off of their bad choices, which doesn’t seem fair. With that said, it bears repeating that “Stage Kiss” really does succeed when it comes to comedy. Just in terms of how it sets up awkward situations and embarrassing reveals, Ruhl’s script certainly has precision. And one doesn’t have to look too hard to find all of the show’s amusing satirical jabs at the world of theater—where some directors can’t direct, and where melodrama and experimental storytelling are two sides of the same coin.
“Stage Kiss” still hits more than it misses, mostly because so much of it rides on the shoulders of leading lady Maramara, who sings, swoons and pantomimes with much aplomb. Several of the other cast members get their own standout moments (there’s Robbie Guevara’s perennially exasperated Husband, and Justine Narciso’s uncommonly foul-mouthed Angela), but Maramara is undoubtedly the play’s center of gravity. Watching her package outrageous accents and genuine “woundedness” into one coherent performance is a spectacle on its own. —CONTRIBUTED
“Stage Kiss” runs until March 1 at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. ticketworld.com.ph.