The Arts
February 21-27, 2007

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'Prelude to a Kiss'

Photograph by Dana Grover
Bridal switch: Michael Green (left), Paul Ulloa and Rebecca Ines discover that things aren't what they seem in 'Prelude to a Kiss.'

Wedding Wows

A young couple get more than they bargained for when an old man kisses the bride at Northside Theatre

By Marianne Messina

IN MEMORY of that old adage "Once you're married everything changes," Craig Lucas' play Prelude to a Kiss takes the idea literally in this Northside Theatre Company production. Just after the couple has said the vows, Rita (Rebecca Ines) becomes a different person right before new husband Peter's eyes (Paul Ulloa as a cool and nonchalant Peter). Up to that moment, the play has been a brisk, bland run-through of everything that generally leads up to a wedding: first meet, first night together, first boy-meets-in-laws. Terse, shorthand conversations that move choppily across the surface of a relationship could use either some depth or smoother, faster timing.

But then in walks the Old Man (Michael I. Green) to rescue this marriage and the play from potential tedium. As guests try to figure out whose side of the family the Old Man is on, he asks to kiss the bride. As he does, lights flicker and dim, and the wedding guests briefly freeze in their tracks. We see Rita looking bewildered and dazed; then on the honeymoon in Jamaica, it becomes clear that Rita has turned into someone else. Ines makes a significant shift from the cheery girl who acts cute and talks socialist ideals into someone more cynical, world weary, someone who carries herself a lot like a man—in this case an old man.

Although the early Rita is charming, she wears a perpetual smile that makes it hard to envision her as the fretful insomniac she confesses to being, or the girl with morbid fears who says to Peter at one point, "I can't see you sitting there without imagining you dying and going up in flames." In fact, Peter starts to suspect that Rita is not Rita when as a wild vacationer she wants to try every sport known to man. Peter has come to know that "Rita is afraid of everything."

Michael Pease directed this austere production, a bare stage helped along by a few sticks of furniture carried on and off (or redecorated) by the actors—bar stools, a white trellis archway for the wedding ceremony, a versatile couch. In the second half of this comedy, Peter tries to undo the swapped identities. As the parents of the bride think he's gone crazy, the suspense builds and the premise starts to work its amusement. Will Peter kiss the bride, even though she's in a decrepit male body? Ultimately, the story leads to an intriguing conversation around the old man's fear of dying and Rita's fear of living.

Ulloa's Peter starts out almost colorless, but as the play progresses, and he steps into the spotlight to narrate what goes on between scenes, we come to count on his staid, unexcitable qualities. And at times, Ulloa also seemed to hold the play together in a real way, through stumbled or miscued lines. In the supporting cast, Chris Tann—Australian accent and long, wild white hair—made a funny Taylor, Peter's party-animal confidante. The competent Estelle Piper breathes some originality into the role of Rita's mother Mrs. Boyle. When Peter tries to convince Mrs. Boyle over the phone that Rita's not the same person, she consoles him with the wisdom of the ages: "They never are." This is when the play is at its best, humorous yet carrying engaging considerations about how well we can know another person and how much attention we actually pay to our beloveds.

Prelude to a Kiss, a Northside Theatre Company production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm through March 11 at 848 E. William St., San Jose. Tickets are $12-$15. (408.288.7820)

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