In “Prelude to a Kiss,” the souls of a confused young woman and a desperate old man magically switch bodies, giving him a second chance at youth and her a virtual death sentence.
When playwright Craig Lucas wrote “Prelude” in 1990, many saw it as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis that was decimating entire communities with arbitrary cruelty. Out of nowhere, one “kiss” in a chance encounter with a stranger could destroy a young, healthy person in the prime of life. Although the threat of AIDS is still very real, 24 years later the subtext has practically disappeared, leaving Lucas’ play as simply a peculiar branch on the romantic comedy tree. But the production of “Prelude,” by Lansing Community College’s Performing Arts program, fills the bare bones plot with engag ing performances and a smart set that maximizes the vast Dart Auditorium space.
The metaphysical “what if?” of the show, is still a fun thought experiment: On her wedding day, Rita, a fretful young bride (Katie Dufort) receives a congratulatory kiss from a mysterious wedding crasher (Ken Beachler) that triggers the transference of identities. Neither reveals what has happened and they both go their separate ways, leaving Peter (Garrett McCord), one very confused bridegroom, alone with his non-wife on a two-week honeymoon.
The tone shifts smoothly from broad comedy (Peter’s bumbling seduction of Rita is a hoot) to familial drama to philosophical/ psychological examination: Honestly, how much of knowing someone is really knowing that person and how much is our projection of who — and what — we want them to be? The show adeptly avoids any easy answers.
McCord has a relaxed stage presence, investing his character with an easygoing charm. He plays Peter as a guileless puppy dog of a man who’s in love with being in love. Dufort, meanwhile, easily channels both the world-weary young insomniac (Rita claims she hasn’t slept since she was 14 because of all the horrors in the world) and the electrified old-timer who’s jumped into her skin and is reveling in it. Beachler, who nails his role as the old man, summons his inner girly girl in some inspired acting. His scenes with McCord are the show’s highpoints, as you see the confusion and heartbreak inherent in watching the person you love erode before your eyes.
Strong supporting turns by Jesse Frawley (as Dr. Boyle, Rita’s father) and Cassie Little (Mrs. Boyle) uphold the genuine feelings of joy and despair elicited by the main performers, and provide some of the show’s biggest laughs.
The actors make good use of the space on set/lighting designer Tom Schraeder’s stage, wandering in and out of light pools into sparse scenes depicting a bar, one of two living rooms, even a beach in Jamaica.
Sadly, however, it appears audiences still aren’t comfortable with intimate same-sex moments. “Don’t do it, don’t do it,” the person behind me muttered as the two men leaned toward each other in a romantically charged moment. It seems like some folks would indeed benefit from a little spend-a-month in-someone-else’s-body empathy.
“Prelude to a Kiss”
Lansing Community College 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22 $15/$10 seniors, LCC staff and alumni/$5 students. Dart Auditorium, 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing (517) 483-1488, lcc.edu/showinfo