Regional Reviews: St. Louis
De Kus/The Kiss
Also see Richard's review of Dogfight
But relax, it's not all Bergmanesquethough if any theater in town could be win the title of "Bergmanesque," it would certainly be this one (I'll throw Felliniesque in there too, just to sweeten the deal). The combination of the magic of the world around us and the occasional madness of our quietude, and the strange demands of others, can become heart-pounding under these lights.
Still, the action does take place in the Netherlands (sort of between Bergman's Sweden and Fellini's Italy, right?), in a magnificent countryside covered in fall leaves, under a sky held up by white birches. In the forefront there's also a platform subtly trimmed in little tiles depicting the Stations of the Cross, to echo a difficult passage. So, as lightly and easily as the dialog flows (translated by Paul Evans, from a 2011 play by Ger Thijs), and as intriguing and lightly lovable as the characters are, all that chat is merely to distract a man and woman on stage from some very weighty issues, deep within a forest cathedral.
Lisa Tejero plays "the woman," and Eric Dean White "the man," but they end up getting a lot more complicated than thatin fact, the stage is ultimately crowded with all the people they are (or are not) and all the people who love them (or do not). And for various reasons, at various points, she is fleeing from him, or confessing to him, or threatening to spray him with mace, or ... well, refer back to that title.
Let's go from the ridiculous to the sublime for a moment (and then back again). Years ago, a friend explained that applying numerous coats of paint to a wall would give a much deeper tone or luster or visual resonance to the finished effect. And that's what we get here in the acting (thanks to director Kenn McLaughlin). Both actors are utterly expert at "letting it sink in" with a pause or a subtle change of aspect, when the other says something shocking or mysteriouschanging the tone of their relationship as quietly as possible, with each new layer of narrative. But it's a lot better than just watching paint dry.
The Kiss is a play that beautifully beckons us in, with sometimes enigmatic expressions and unspoken (but painfully clear) answersand with writing even deeper than that. In the opening minutes we are subtly prepared for a great journey, with a half dozen passing references to distance and (later) to what's left behind and what's likely to be lost upon arrival. First there is the distance to the doctor's office (a walk of three hours, though the play is less than two), the distance between a husband and wife, and of course the distance between a lonely man and woman on a bench. Other routes and lines are calculated too, for other dimensions.
But stop right there: Mr. White's currency-ready profile, guarded and just barely calculated in this role, is also attached to a clown's body. And the character inside wins back Ms. Tejero's troubled "woman" again and again in a forest as colorful as a stained-glass window. (And you could probably be forgiven for imagining Mr. White as some unrecognizable religious figure here, with all the references to Catholicism.) Then, when they've stripped each other bare, psychologically, the anguish reads on Ms. Tejero's face like the cancer itself. It erupts right between her eyes, threatening to split her head in two.
That's not the end of it at all. He keeps struggling to confront her fear and distrust, and then there's the struggle not to run away from everything, which becomes the subtlest temptation of all. Utterly defying expectations, a beautiful and cinematic walk follows. And I'll leave the rest to your imagination for now.
That whole breast cancer storyline may seem too sensitive for some, but playwright Thijs opens it up quite dramatically, turning the long-evolving discussion into something surprisingly universalat first like a closet filled with self-loathing women, whose ranks she fears she soon must join. And then something very different: defiant, hopeful, fearless.
Through October 25, 2015, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 South Grand. For more information visit www.upstreamtheater.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes member, United Scenic Artists Local 829