“Kiss” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

You don’t get a program when you enter the theatre for Kiss: you’re told the theatre doesn’t want you to experience any “preconceptions,” and that you’ll be given a program as you leave. Okay.

In the press kit I was handed as a reviewer (no programs for reviewers beforehand either, in case you’re wondering), in addition to the press release, there’s a reprint from American Theatre magazine of an interview with the playwright, Guillermo Calderon; I’ll get to that in a while. The most prominent feature of the press kit, though, is a sheet of paper with the words “SPOILER ALERT” in large letters at the top, and beneath that the plea, “In order to maintain the element of surprise for future audiences, we ask that you not give away details of the plot in your review.”

I won’t give away details of the plot, but not out of any sense of benevolence. I won’t give away details of the plot because, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.

The play opens in a living room in Damascus, Syria, in 2015. Hadeel (Kristin Couture) opens the door to Youssef (Kevin Matthew Reyes), and the two promptly plunge into a fraught discourse: Youssef declares his love for Hadeel, to which she initially responds with dismay and disgust, then suddenly declares she loves him so much she wants to lick his plate clean when he’s finished eating off it. Youssef proposes marriage. Hadeel accepts.

Kevin Matthew Reyes and Kristin Couture. Photo: Enci Box

A few moments later, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s Ahmed (Max Lloyd-Jones), Hadeel’s boyfriend and Youssef’s best buddy, who confides to Youssef that this is the night he’s going to propose to Hadeel. Which he does when Youssef runs out to buy a pack of cigarettes. Hadeel accepts.

Kristin Couture and Max Lloyd-Jones. Photo: Enci Box

Youssef returns, and the trio is soon joined by Bana (Natali Anna), Youssef’s girlfriend and Hadeel’s best friend, who explodes with resentment again Youssef and reports that she has kissed someone.

Natali Ann and Kevin Matthew Reyes. Photo: Enci Box

And then…

Oh, never mind. It’s all very arch and wannabe-over-the-top, with impossible-to-say-with-a-straight-face lines such as Youssef’s “Everything is broken. This is total destruction.” And then something terrible happens and we find ourselves coming to a dramatic conclusion.

But wait. There’s a twist. The fact that this is supposedly Syria, and Hadeel and Ahmed are played by actors who look as if they graduated from a New England prep school, while Youssef and Bana are played by actors of Hispanic heritage was distracting, but suddenly gets explained. It’s a big twist, and there are a couple more coming. But, y’know, it’s a secret…

The cast is energetic and plucky, and the director (Bart DeLorenzo) is talented. The set (by Nina Caussa) is handsome, and the lighting (by Katelan Braymer) and costumes (by Raquel Barretto) make fine contributions to the atmosphere.

But back to that interview with the playwright. It opens with a fateful question: “What is this play really about?” There follows a lot of blather about political theatre, “emotional truth,” and “keen control of dramatic irony,” whatever that means. But the penultimate paragraph seems to hold the key as it begins, “It’s a play about confusion…”

That’s good to know, because I started being confused about 30 seconds in, and left the theatre completely at sea. At one point a character says, “I don’t know if I’m making sense.” I was tempted to blurt out, “No, you’re not, but don’t worry – nothing else makes sense either.”

The cast. Photo: Enci Box

The play is 80 minutes long, without an intermission, and has three sections. The first section – apparently supposed to resemble a bad soap opera – is at least straightforward in its presentation, if maddening and too long. The second section is obtuse, meanders all over the place, and is too long as well. The final section, also too long – do you notice a pattern here? – is utterly incomprehensible, partially because there’s so much going on that we simply can’t understand any of the lines. Though, considering what’s gone before, it’s doubtful that would have helped. I haven’t read the script, so I can only assume the play is more interesting – and makes more sense – on the page than on the stage.

The whole thing is all very earnest. But a little bit of earnestness goes a long way, and too much quickly devolves into pretentiousness. And while many plays start obliquely, then clear things up by the end, Kiss is a play which starts confusingly, then spirals down into aggressive incoherence. It’s full of sound and fury, signifying… well, if you can figure it out, I wish you’d tell me.

Written by Guillermo Calderon
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo

Through June 18

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets: 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com


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