BWW Reviews: PRELUDE TO A KISS - A Romantic Getaway in Colorado Springs
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by Christi Esterle
Like the couple at the center of its story, the Fine Arts Center's Prelude to a Kiss takes a little while to find its rhythm. The first scene or two struggle with awkwardness, as conversations get muddled and jokes fall flat. But as the romance between solid, nondescript Peter (Kyle Dean Steffan) and nervous insomniac Rita (Cynthia Pohlson) blossoms and takes its extraordinary detours, the production develops into a charming parable on the nature of life and love that's engaging and unexpectedly moving.
Billed as a "Freaky Friday for the 21st century"--though the music and fashions clearly invoke the late 1980s--Prelude to a Kiss employs the sort of body-switch device that underwent a brief vogue in Hollywood about twenty-five years ago. (Indeed, Craig Lucas' play was itself adapted into a film starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan.) Rita and Peter meet at a party, and despite a seeming mismatch in temperament the chemistry between them is obvious and intense-so much so that six weeks later Peter is proposing marriage. Their wedding takes a turn into the bizarre, however, when a mysterious old man (Sol Chavez) offers to kiss the bride, and Peter finds himself on his honeymoon with someone who is very literally not the woman he married.
Unlike other plots of this stripe, Prelude to a Kiss forgoes fish-out-of-water shenanigans in favor of deeper philosophical questions. How well can we truly know somebody, even a person as close as a spouse or relative? Can love survive the changes time works on us? How do we make the most of the brief span of life given to us? The play works best when it delves into these questions, never more so than when Chavez (as "Rita" now awkwardly stuck in an almost-worn-out body) muses on the transience, futility, and beauty of life.
The most important part of any romance is to make us empathize with the main couple and want them to be together, and Steffan and Pohlson are a likeable pair who sell their whirlwind romance and undeniable rightness together. Together with Chavez, Pohlson successfully achieves the story's other central conceit by creating two distinct characters and convincingly embodying them both. With so much of the story dependent on this trio, it is perhaps inevitable that the ensemble would mostly fade into the background, but David Hastings and Jane Fromme manage to carve out a bit of space for themselves as Rita's parents. Comfortably suburban, occasionally boisterous and argumentative but good at heart, their embodiment of middle-aged marriage adds another counterpoint to Peter and Rita's youth and the Old Man's twilight.
The magical realism in Lucas' prose is offset by Maya Linke's sparse, abstract set and Holly Anne Rawls' evocative lighting. The stark industrial walls, accented with Dutch-angled pipes and beams and backed by a hazy sky, seem like an unlikely place for such an enchanting love story. In retrospect, that's one of the things that makes it even more magical.
Funny, fantastic, and surprisingly thought-provoking, PRELUDE TO A KISS is playing now through February 17th at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. For tickets and information, contact 719-477- 4377 or visit www.csfineartscenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Kearney