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San Francisco Playhouse’s ‘Stage Kiss’ is a theatrical escape

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The Director (Mark Anderson Phillips) gives stage directions to She (Carrie Paff*) and He (Gabriel Marin). Photo courtesy of San Francisco Playhouse.

The biggest deterrent for college students wanting to see live theater in San Francisco is the often ridiculously high price.

But for $15, the San Francisco Playhouse offers students access to professional productions year-round. Traveling to the intimate 200-seat playhouse, located in the heart of the theater district on the second floor of a luxurious Union Square hotel, is an adventure itself.

“Stage Kiss,” the latest San Francisco Playhouse production, tells the story of two ex-lovers who are cast in a play together and are required to kiss onstage. As they spend more time rehearsing, the line between art and reality begins to blur. “Stage Kiss” is a quasi-romantic comedy. Sincere musings on what it means to work in show business are mixed with witty remarks, farcical scenes and, of course, stage kisses.

Written by Sarah Ruhl, the writer of two Pulitzer Prize-nominated plays, “Stage Kiss” captures not only the actors’ transitions on and offstage, but also the human interaction of the kiss itself. When asked about her inspiration for the play, Sarah Ruhl commented, “How weird, to watch actors kiss … It’s their job, and what a wonderful job, to get to walk in and kiss attractive people all day, but also what a weird job.”

Onstage, the actors deliver flawless comedic timing and theatrical vigor. The farcical characters of the nervous director and the young understudy, constantly worried that his homosexuality is “showing” during the kissing scenes before he pirouettes off the stage, frame the blossoming couple’s relationship. For the audience, the thrill of “Stage Kiss” stems from the absurdity of watching actors portray performers who switch characters throughout the play.

While the play occasionally seems to leap from comical highs to more earnest moments of reflection rather quickly, all of this seems genuine. While the actress’ over-the-top lunacy is apparent from her first audition, Carrie Paff and Gabriel Marin (referred to as “He” and “She” throughout the performance) capture both the frivolity and the the theatrical passion with which actors throw themselves into their work. While most heartfelt reunions would lose their authenticity transpiring only moments after a comedic scene featuring a Scottish pimp and a whore from Brooklyn, in “Stage Kiss” the reunion has added pathos as a result.

Sarah Ruhl elegantly blends aspects of stagelife, humor and love into a 120-minute production. For anyone willing to make the journey to San Francisco, “Stage Kiss” is a rewarding journey into the world of theater.

Stage Kiss closes Jan. 9, 2016.

Contact Olivia Witting at owitting ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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