Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Heart & Soul Power: Excellent Work by "Old Man" Ed McGuire Makes For a Fine 'Prelude to a Kiss' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Prelude to a Kiss
by Craig Lucas
Presented by The Comrades
at Greenhouse Theater Center
Thru February 5
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SPOILER ALERT: It is almost impossible to give even a basic description of Prelude to a Kiss without revealing its central plot twist.

As the play was first produced in 1988 and a movie version four years later, not only is this conceit far from a secret, I don't think knowing it going in harms one's appreciation of the play (it's probably even helpful). But if you want to be oblivious, stop reading here and just know that due to some fine acting, especially by an elderly actor named Ed McGuire, The Comrades' new production of the Craig Lucas piece about love is rather worthwhile.

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I saw the Prelude to a Kiss movie starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin, just once, years ago, on a plane, but I recall liking it.

I hadn't previously seen the play but a solid yearlong Broadway run, Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and being a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist bespeak a highly regarded work by Craig Lucas, a playwright who's had a nice career.

I've seen and enjoyed several plays directed by Derek Bertelsen, who helms this production, and admire The Comrades troupe that he heads.

This rendition of Prelude to a Kiss features two likable leads (David Coupe and Bethany Hart as Peter and Rita), and while I felt there was a bit too much '80s sheen added to a piece that was written and set then but whose insights can be read somewhat differently now--NY Times critic Frank Rich originally wrote: "...this play can be taken as an indirect treatment of [AIDS]," which is not something I picked up on--it remains a pretty powerful look at love, our inner/outer selves and what makes us not only unique but attractive to others (on a holistic level).

Yet the most specific reason I found this production to be excellent and well-worth your time is the performance of Ed McGuire in the key role of "Old Man."

If I can now, safely, reference the unique premise of Prelude to a Kiss, at the wedding of Peter and Rita an uninvited old man wanders in, wishes them well, gives the bride a smooch...and then takes over her body as she does his.

As with many, I presume, I knew this upon entering the theater, but I didn't recall that the prelude to the kiss entails about half an hour of Peter and Rita meeting, romancing, falling in love and preparing for their wedding, including his meeting her parents (nicely played here by James Spangler and Carol Ludwick).

While I recognize that getting to know the characters is crucial to the rest of the play, post-kiss, I can't say I found the preamble all that fascinating. Coupe and Hart are attractive and engaging, their chemistry sufficient, but amid bad '80s jackets and Miami Vice color schemes, there wasn't enough of a dynamism to have me all that riveted.

Or in a bit of cheeky criticism that really isn't meant critically, two fine young local actors weren't as compelling as Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin (circa 1992, at least to the point that memory serves).

But until I just looked it up, I didn't remember who played the Old Man in the movie version--Sydney Walker--and based on his being listed 8th on IMDB perhaps he doesn't get as much screen time as stage time, but it's hard for me to imagine him doing a significantly better job than McGuire does here.

I haven't knowingly seen Ed McGuire onstage before, but the play's program notes that he's performed for over 35 years in Chicago and Florida, so he's clearly no newcomer.

But perhaps due to a bit of frailty in an actor I'm guessing is pushing 80 if not beyond, he imbues the Old Man with a particularly fine realism, even in convincingly acting like the young woman inhabiting him.

While body swap stories--Freaky Friday, Big, Vice-Versa, Like Father Like Son, etc., etc.--unavoidably involve misunderstanding, disbelief, discovery/revelation and re-examination as also happens here, the pathos of good ones makes you feel warmth well beyond the way gimmicky tropes can make you (OK, me) cringe.

McGuire--and also Hart when acting as if the Old Man is within Rita--goes a long way to getting the tonality right, and I was genuinely moved by the end of the one-act 90-minute play.

If I was supposed to see how much Peter had changed due to the supernatural scenario, I'm not sure I did as--overtly bad fashion choices notwithstanding--he seemed like a decent guy from the beginning, even if armed with some hammy dialogue.

But without spoiling anything further, I presume the message of Prelude is that true love entails seeing one another in intimate ways--including internally--that perhaps even our own parents might miss.

Especially for just $15-$20 or even less through HotTix and Goldstar, Prelude to a Kiss is never less than an enjoyably entertaining evening of theater that should well continue The Comrades' appeal to younger patrons new to the theater scene.

But with deference not only to Coupe and Hart, but an enjoyable 12-person cast, it is when McGuire takes over the stage later in the show that this Prelude to a Kiss really starts to feel blissful.

1 comment:

Edmund McGuire said...

Thank you so much. It was great to do this show and really gratifying and humbled for your kind words.Ed