Never Kiss a Stranger

ATNO’s Prelude Awkwardly Satisfying

Sunday November 04, 07
by Tricia Danflous,

Is it a comedy or is it a drama? Director Chelle Ambrose takes you on an upsy-downsy carnival ride in Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss on the Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans’ (ATNO) intimate stage. Sometimes you’re laughing at insanely silly predictable lines. Seconds later you’re pondering the meaning of life from the perspective of the opposite gender’s point of view. The two-toned production is two hours of light entertainment and two hours of a diverse, interesting cast.

Prelude to a Kiss is somewhat like the movie Freaky Friday, but for grownups. Shortly, very shortly, after meeting, greeting and falling in love, Rita and Peter are lining up to say “I dos.” An old man wandering by the reception cannot resist the temptation to kiss the nervous bride. The two kiss as they gaze into one another’s eyes. Presto-chango! Their souls are exchanged. Peter heads off to his Jamaican honeymoon with Rita’s body and old man Julius Becker’s mind and soul.

There you have the plot and the questions. What happens when you learn what it’s like to be another sex and another generation? Is it everything you thought it would be? Do you like what you see from the “other side?" Or, do you want it back the way it was?

It’s an awkward situation. The Prelude cast presents that discomfort somewhat awkwardly, somewhat cleverly, somewhat just above average. Just as the funny and the serious go back and forth, this production varies from excellent to let’s speed up the action a little and from thought-provoking delivery to the mundane. Set aside opening night (November 1, 2007) anxiety, however, and you’re sure to find a production worth the time and your small (tickets under $20) investment in community theatre.

More than anything, get yourself to the ATNO theatre to see Peter Gabb as Julius Becker. I hadn’t seen him on stage since way before Katrina. What a refreshing sight – he’s as droll and talented as I remember. Congratulations to Director Ambrose for selecting Gabb for this role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else so appropriately cast. As a female inside a man’s body, Gabb is convincingly giddy. As an old man, he demonstrates melancholy and anger at life’s passing with a passionate message. His quick turn from woman in a man’s body to his natural self shows the range and seasoned ease of a professional.

Angela Papale as Rita is not as smooth in the transformation from newlywed to man within a young girl’s physique. She is much more convincing as lover, fiancée and daughter. Her agility on stage and brilliant white-toothed smile will remain with you a long time as well as the delivery of the adults-only line – “what’s your dirtiest fantasy?”

Peter Hoskins, played by Robert Facio, who narrates some of the plot, is the poor, pitiful husband off to Jamaica with a wife who changed even before she removed her wedding gown. Facio comes to life in the second act when, particularly in a confronting scene with his father-in-law, played by Mark Burton. It would be nice to see him sustain such dynamics throughout the play as his character’s reaction and comments are the fulcrum for the comedy/drama’s best lines.

Mark Burton and Viki Lovelace as Rita’s parents bring eccentricity to their roles, just right for the play’s supernatural message.

Margeaux Fanning as Aunt Dorothy is hysterical as is the wedding scene. We all have an Aunt Dorothy who adds life to every family occasion – Fanning takes that stereotypical character up and away for giggles and grins.

A sofa, a couple of chairs and a table are the only elements of a stark, stark, stark set with a black curtained backdrop. Although a more traditional set would enhance the production, the meager offerings do not detract from the delivery. As mentioned in past reviews of ATNO productions, big budgets and lavish sets are not the most important element for a good evening of community theatre. I continue to be impressed with ATNO’s sound elements. Ambrose, who also served as sound designer, and Jenny Billot, sound and lighting operator, selected and coordinated pleasant, entertaining and appropriate musical interludes.

If you’re up for something a little different than primetime television, but not too far away, Prelude to a Kiss may just be the satisfying evening you need.

Back Row Facts

Length of Play – two hours including a 15-minute intermission.

Lewdity and Language – adult audiences, for sure, but nothing overtly uncomfortable.

Family Fitness – a good choice for older teens and above.

It’s a puzzlement! Who played Rita’s parents in the movie version of Prelude to a Kiss?