'Prelude to a Kiss': Delightfully spooky ruminations on love, life

April 30, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Don't deny it. Sometime or other, just about everyone would like to trade places with someone else. You look at a young woman, and she seems to have her whole life in front of her. You look at an old man, and he seems to have the world figured out.

What you don't see is that the woman is actually terrified of life, and the man is sick and has only a short time to live.

Craig Lucas' "Prelude to a Kiss," currently receiving a hauntingly evocative production at Theatre Hopkins, examines this grass-is-always-greener theory, along with the equally intriguing question of how well one person can ever really know another.

Peter and Rita meet at a party. Two months later they get married. At the wedding, a strange old man nobody knows shows up and insists on kissing the bride; other than that, it's a picture-perfect wedding. Then on the honeymoon, Rita seems changed. A bartender who enjoys a stiff drink, she suddenly swears off the sauce; an insomniac, she now sleeps like a baby. Most peculiar of all, a former socialist, she seems to have lost all concern for the downtrodden.

Peter is as baffled as a character in a mystery, which is exactly the sensation the playwright wants to instill in the audience. Theatre Hopkins' production, delicately directed by Suzanne Pratt, mingles that sensation with just enough romance to keep matters from becoming macabre.

Jack Manion and Vivian Hasbrouk are adorable as the courting couple, and on the honeymoon, Hasbrouk's Rita does seem noticeably different: harsher and more abrupt. Most of the supporting performances also hit the right note, particularly Doug Roberts as Rita's jovial father and Richard Bavaria as Peter's best friend.

But the standout performance is that of Donald Hart as the mysterious old man. Without giving away the entire plot, when Peter finally meets up with him again in the second act, Hart makes the bond between them heartbreakingly bittersweet.

In addition to the above themes, "Prelude to a Kiss" also looks at the nature of true love. What exactly do we love about another person? And even more to the point, to paraphrase the Beatles, will you still need him, will you still feed him, when he's 64?

Director Pratt has found an ideal two-dimensional representation both the subject and tone of "Prelude to a Kiss" in Magritte's "The Ready-made Souvenir," which is reproduced on the cover of the program. Botticelli's Venus floats inside the silhouette of a man who is seen only from the back, wearing a dark coat and bowler. In the words of Churchill, it is "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" -- a painting that is at once delightful and spooky, as is this play.

"Prelude to a Kiss"

Where: Merrick Barn, Johns Hopkins University.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:15 p.m., May 16 at 7:30 p.m. Through May 23.

Tickets: $7.50 and $10.

Call: (410) 516-7159.

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