By Lorraine Wardle
Marriage vows are pretty clear-cut: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, ’til death do you part.” But what if your spouse is suddenly not the person you married?
“Prelude to a Kiss,” by Craig Lucas, examines this question by presenting the audience with a very strange series of events.
The Oakland Center for the Arts first produced “Prelude to a Kiss” 20 years ago. Since then, it has been adapted into a movie and revived on Broadway. Now, the play returns to the Oakland with a stellar cast and an insightful director.
“Prelude to a Kiss” tells the story of Peter and Rita, two 20-somethings who meet and fall in love in New York City. Their courtship is short, sweet and endearing.
Then, at their wedding, a strange, sort of magical event takes place that changes Rita. Peter is baffled and increasingly concerned about his new wife’s transformation. Though she looks exactly the same, Rita begins to act very differently. What he discovers, and how they resolve it, are equally surprising.
Director Liz Conrad seems acutely aware of the themes of love and loss in Lucas’ play. Conrad challenges her audience to re-examine their ideas of true love and identity with Lucas’ intriguing script.
In order to succeed, “Prelude to a Kiss” needs a strong leading man, which Conrad found in Anthony Genovese. As Peter, Genovese is storyteller and main character at once. He flows between narration to dialogue with depth and sincerity. The play is essentially Peter’s journey and as such, Genovese never leaves the stage, but performs tirelessly.
Kate Starling plays Peter’s love, Rita. Starling is challenged with playing two versions of the same role. At first, Starling’s Rita is cute and flirtatious but also haunted by fears and insomnia. She then becomes her character’s opposite, growing more elusive and difficult. Starling shows quite a range within one role.
Tom O’Donnell plays the Old Man, who is the catalyst for Rita’s changes. O’Donnell returns to a role he played 20 years ago in the Oakland’s original production. As the Old Man, O’Donnell also plays dual roles. At first, he is feeble and unhappy but eventually becomes satisfied with his life and his fate. O’Donnell’s performance is emotional and gripping as he struggles with his dilemmas.
As Rita’s father, Dr. Boyle, Terry Shears is a hilarious addition to the talented cast. His performance adds both reality and humor to the production. Molly Galano provides a perfect foil to Shears as Rita’s mother, Mrs. Boyle. Their banter is perfectly timed and comical. Galano’s more-serious scenes also shine with sincerity.
The production is rounded out with a strong supporting cast that adds humor and authenticity. The set design, by Conrad and Cleric Costes, worked perfectly for the seamless scene changes throughout the play.
“Prelude to a Kiss” continues Friday, Saturday and April 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. at the Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman St. For reservations, call 330-746-0404.