REP finally raises its curtain to its new season with a straight play. Below is our review of Stage Kiss which runs until March 1, 2020 at Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati City.

Comedy is hard. That’s always been the prevailing opinion in show business. It involves a deft hand, wit, and impeccable timing. It requires an actor to accurately and consistently read not only his or her scene partners, but the entire room, and deliver their lines and make the puns and jokes land confidently. Truly, it takes a very talented actor to make even the simplest comedic material sing, and in Repertory Philippines’ initial offering for its 83rd Season, there were spades of talent onstage.

Stage Kiss is a biting romantic comedy written by Sarah Ruhl, who penned other critically acclaimed plays Eurydice, The Clean House, and In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). And much like her other material, she brings her signature wit to bring this story of love lost and found (and lost and found again) set in the manic backdrop of life in the theatre. Missy Maramara plays a woman seeking meaning and fulfillment, initially through a conventional family life, and then through staging a “comeback” by headlining what could be the worst play ever to be staged. Starring opposite the scintillating Maramara is the equally charming Tarek El Tayech, a firebrand of an ex-lover to Maramara’s character who promptly sweeps her off her feet. What follows is a lighthearted exploration of finding love all over again through a series of vignettes that alternate between hilarious and thoughtful. The conceit of the play is in how their strange and awkward courtship is framed against the backdrop of a “play-within-a-play”, and their escalating romance expressed through increasingly passionate stage kisses (hence the name).

But, as the curtain falls on the first act of the show, one is left wondering if the final tableaux that’s lit in incandescent rosy perfection is meant to reflect reality, or the fantasy of the play within the world. And here lies the crux of the plot: where fantasy and reality trade places without warning.

By the time the curtain is lifted for the second act, the glossy world of the play gives way to a messy studio apartment that serves as a fitting backdrop for the chaos that follows. The play can be said to be split neatly down the middle: a saccharine first act, and a shot of strychnine in the second. And this transition is where audiences may have to take a leap of faith. In many ways, the two halves of the play act as mirror images of each other, because while the complicated layers of Ruhl’s play is more apparent in the second act, the absence of nuance in the first act presupposes that we see love through the character’s eyes – devoid of all deficiency and decay – which is a more disturbing, sinister, delusion.

Making his directorial debut with Repertory Philippines, Carlos Siguion-Reyna dives headfirst into this challenging play and draws out compelling performances from the very talented cast. This in itself is a Herculean task: In less capable hands, this complex material would completely collapse like a house of cards. Fortunately, apart from the magnetic Missy Maramara and Tarek El Tayech, the cast is populated with equally talented actors, both old and new. Theatre stalwarts Robbie Guevara, and Jamie Wilson, with Andres Borromeo, Justine Narciso, Micaela Pineda, and pianist Nick Nangit round off the cast.

One of the biggest takeaways from the show is this, and a relevant reminder to those who value romance above all things: Love in its infinite complications doesn’t exist in a vacuum. One’s choices and actions made and done, ripple across our lives.

Stage Kiss is a poignant reminder that stage kisses are just that: passionate, but empty. And no matter how fun, or how many times one gets to do it, you will always look for something real in the end.

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