Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón's Kiss is a political play set in Syria with an unusual and thought-provoking twist. Stray Cat Theatre's production has an incredibly talented cast who maneuver their way skillfully through Calderón's layered plot under Ron May's expert direction. While Kiss isn't a perfect play, with an ending that I wish packed more of a wallop, and it feels overly long in parts even though it only runs 80 minutes, it still makes for an interesting and intriguing conversation about how we possibly misinterpret people and situations that are different from us or beyond our scope of knowledge.
Director Ron May never fails to impress with his subtle directorial choices and ability to ensure his cast members always deliver committed performances; the group of actors he's assembled for Kiss is no exception. Character names are intentionally left out of the program to also not give away any spoilers, so I'll also refrain from using specific character name, although I don't think that doing so would give anything away. Neda Tavassoli, Evan Ohbayashi, Connor Wanless, and Samantha Hanna portray the quartet of lovers we meet in the first act and each delivers a performance that is comical and farcical but always grounded in reality. When things get a little darker, all four have no problem achieving portrayals that are believable and heartbreaking.
While Ohbayashi and Wanless are very funny, engaging and charming, Calderón's situations and dialogue provide meatier parts for the female characters and both Tavassoli and Hanna are exceptional in beautifully delivering the wide range of acting styles and emotions that are required of them. While there isn't a weak link in the cast, Hanna is simply superb. She appears after we've already met the trio of lovers, like a firecracker of emotion about to explode, and you simply can't take her eyes off of her. Both she and Tavassoli vastly exceed what is required to portray the changes their characters go through, and they deliver compassionate and upsetting, though incredibly memorable, performances. Hayla Stewart and Gina Vlahandreas appear in the second act as two women who reveal truths to the rest of the characters, and the urgency and reality they achieve in their portrayals is stunning.
Creative elements are excellent, with Aaron Sheckler's set design delivering a simply stated apartment that, along with Dallas Nichols' subtly shifting lighting, plays perfectly into the changes and range of emotions in the play. Pete Bish's sound design delivers some great comical sound gags in the first act, and shifts to deliver effects of a much more serious nature in act three, and the costumes from Maci Cae Hosler are appropriately modern and character specific.
...Kiss is a politically charged play that will definitely make you think about how you view people from different countries and backgrounds and if you can really truly every understand their struggles without at least speaking to them or seeing first-hand what they are up against. With a stellar cast, lush creative elements, and spotless direction, this Stray Cat production, like just about every other challenging work they produce, provides a perfect way to test and expose an audience to characters and a world far beyond their own