Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

02/07/2016 - 30/07/2016

Production Details

“O God, I want to kiss you all day until I’m breathless with desire. The way I was when I was eighteen!”  

From Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee Sarah Ruhl, comes this wickedly clever and charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss – or when actors share a real one.

When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930’s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them off stage. 

Ruhl is an accomplished, acclaimed author who brings her unique mix of lyricism, sparkling humour and fierce intelligence to the world of romantic comedy. Universal themes include ageing, betrayal, love, marriage and family; and we are asked to consider what is actually real in art, love and life.

“I really just wanted to write a play about actors kissing” said Ruhl on her inspiration for the play. “And then somewhere along the line the idea came to me that it would be ex-lovers acting together in a bad 1930’s chestnut, and they would have to kiss each other many times. How weird, to watch actors kiss. It’s their job, and what a wonderful job, to get to kiss attractive people all day, but also, a weird job. And sometimes there’s no chemistry and you have to make it work. And that’s odd and a little bit like prostitution, but yet it’s not. It’s an art form.”

“Knockabout farce that channels Noel Coward and Michael Frayn”
“A lively blend of romantic comedy and backstage farce”
– New York Times
“Stage Kiss is a gift and a rarity… moving, smart and flat-out hilarious.”

Directed by Ross Jolly, with set design by John Hodgkins, costumes by Sheila Horton and a stellar cast featuring Peter Daubé, Danielle Mason, Simon Leary, Stephen Papps, Bruce Phillips, Harriet Prebble and Ria Simmons, this is one show not to be missed. 

So, make a date night for one of the hottest new plays to hit the stage – this ‘Kiss’ will leave you… breathless! 

Circa One
2 July – 30 July
Tues – Wed 6.30pm
Thurs – Sat 8pm
Sun – 4pm
Tickets: Adult $46, Seniors & Students $38
Circa Friends $33 | Under 25s & Industry $25
Groups  (6+) $39 (20+) 36n
Bookings:  (04) 801-7992

Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc

Theatre ,

Skilled writing makes up for slight premise

Review by Ewen Coleman 06th Jul 2016

Kissing on stage usually appears real and believable, but American playwright Sarah Ruhl wasn’t so sure this was always the case so decided to investigate it further, to the extent of creating a play about it.

Although the premise of Stage Kiss is rather slight, a skilled playwright like Ruhl is nevertheless able to hone an interesting and, at times, funny play from it.

It focuses on what happens when two actors, She (Danielle Mason) and He (Peter Daube), who 20 years ago were acting together on stage and lovers off, but who haven’t seen each other since then, meet again, unexpectedly, on stage. [More


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A production of two halves

Review by John Smythe 03rd Jul 2016

The premise for Stage Kiss is such an obviously good idea it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been exploited before – or has it? It may owe something to Noel Coward’s Private Lives, where a divorced couple, honeymooning with their new spouses, find themselves in neighbouring suites, whereupon their unresolved rancour rekindles their dormant passion.   

In Sarah Ruhl’s play, an actress – listed only as She – grabs the chance to audition for The Last Kiss, a 1930s tear-jerker that flopped on Broadway and is now, unaccountably, being revived in New Haven. Having languished in the limbo reserved for actresses too old for Juliet and not yet ready for Lady Macbeth, She can’t afford to be choosy. She gets the part – and who should turn up as her romantic co-lead but He, the lover she had when she was emotionally immature, before she married and had a daughter who is now a teenager. He is now in an insecure relationship with a schoolteacher called Laurie.

Despite their unresolved rancour, She, in the role of the fatally ailing Ada Wilcox, and He, as her first-love Johnny Lowell, have to kiss many times (behind the backs of Ada’s Husband and Johnny’s wife, Millicent) and thus their dormant passion is rekindled.

Anyone who has seen Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Dead Man’s Cell Phone or In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), will know not to expect her treatment of this conceit to be straight forward. Dubbed a fabulist by the New Yorker’s John Lahr, she deftly blends objective and subjective realities in ways that challenge productions to play lightly with theatrical conventions, while remaining anchored to her purpose. As ever, her audience has to willingly suspend their disbelief, and recognise and empathise with the inherent truths, for it to work.

I have to confess that the third-rate am-dram overacting that permeates the audition and rehearsal scenes in the first half of this Ross Jolly-directed Circa production leave me on the outer, more conscious of actors trying to be funny by sending up bad actors and directors than drawn into the truth of the central characters’ emotional dilemmas.

There is nothing in the script that asks for this over-the-top treatment. The ‘reality’ is that He has had lots of stage work, which She has secretly seen, She is good enough to win this role and the director, Adrian Schwalbach (Bruce Phillips) truly believes there is value in this sort of play (given his own venture into play writing, as revealed later in the play).

When they believe in themselves and we believe in them, it’s a great deal funnier because the comedy arises from the underlying emotional premise, which is something all of us can relate to. Danielle Mason is the first to settle into credibility with She, and her comedy crackles as a result. And when Simon Leary’s audition reader, Kevin, reveals a third dimension, their interactions are very funny.

Peter Daubé’s corny posturing in the Johnny role is alienating but when it is He who is kissing She, the core premise takes precedence and we’re into the comedy zone. Bruce Phillips has chosen, or been directed, to play Adrian Schwalbach as an over-projecting director with nothing beneath the veneer. All I can say is I don’t believe him and I can’t help thinking a heartfelt faith in the value of The Last Kiss, and his own writing effort later, would provide more fertile ground for poignant humour.

In the second act, when the ‘real world’ prevails in the aftermath of the play-within-the-play, a much richer mode of comedy abounds. Having played Ada’s Husband in The Last Kiss, Stephen Papps becomes the actual Husband of She and the truth of his anguish is palpable. As their teenage daughter Angela, Harriet Prebble likewise delivers an unnervingly valid, and therefore funny, assessment of marriage and acting.

It is the absolute sincerity of Ria Simmons’ Laurie (girlfriend of He), rooted in her belief in Groceries and God, that delivers true comedy gold this opening night. Ruhl has gifted She, Angela and Laurie with some memorable rants or tangential raves which Mason, Prebble and Simmons deliver with alacrity. There’s a good twist at the end, too, that pays off the play’s enquiry into the difference between romance and marriage.

There are songs in the The Last Kiss which Peter Daubé is credited with, and he and the whole cast acquit themselves well on that score. The set has to transform from a raw theatre space to a 1930s stage set then an East Village apartment, and John Hodgkins meets the challenge well, abetted by Phil Blackburn’s unobtrusive lighting. And Sheila Horton’s costume designs are so very appropriate they too are easily taken for granted.

Timing has always been a strength of Ross Jolly-directed comedies and this is apparent a lot of the time here, not least in Danielle Mason’s beautifully calibrated performance in a complex role. When Jolly and his cast play to the truths of their characters’ realities and trust us to empathise, it works a treat.

On opening night at least, Stage Kiss is a production of two halves. Given the strengths apparent in Act Two, and clearly enjoyed much more by the audience, there is every reason to hope Act One will find the comedic pitch that will put the whole show on a roll. 


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