"Prelude to a Kiss," the Craig Lucas comedy-fantasy in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis, is actually two plays in one.
For most of the first act, it is a sassy, engaging, fast-paced romantic comedy that features a most engaging pair of lovers.
Rita, played by Katherine Ruttum, is a feisty, leftist insomniac who is a great pleasure to watch as she falls for Peter Hoskins (Jim Gallagher), the intelligent, earnest product of a dysfunctional family who has lived to love another day. As he experiences that "blissful, psychotic first blush of love," we are with him every step of the way.
But following a strange incident at the wedding, Rita undergoes a dramatic transformation on their Jamaican honeymoon. Here, the comic banter ceases and the play mutates into a mysterious flight of fantasy.
Whither Rita? Why has she changed? "Maybe what you saw wasn't here at all," she tells her bewildered spouse whose consternation the audience shares. It's a nightmare, all right. What if the one you love changes so fundamentally as to become another person?
The mystery is resolved, of course. The palpable connection between the lovers is rejoined, and this interesting, rather goofy play ends amid the glow of a love renewed.
Ms. Ruttum's warm, complex Rita is altogether worth falling in love with, and the prodigiously talented Jim Gallagher is thoroughly ingratiating as her introspective, love-smitten companion.
Carol Cohen and Larry Richman skillfully provide comic punch as Rita's doting, slightly daffy parents, and Kurt Dornheim is extraordinarily touching as the old man whose identity is tied to Rita's ectoplasmic detour.
Ultimately, the play itself is more cute than it is inspired, but the performances are expert indeed.