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THEATER REVIEW: "Stage Kiss" at New Village Arts Theatre

When is a kiss just a kiss? A frazzled actress – out of the business for some years – is about to find out in Sarah Ruhl’s “Stage Kiss,” in its West Coast premiere through March 1 at New Village Arts Theatre.

She (Ruhl doesn’t name her) blows in late for an audition, reading for the lead in a reworked 1930s melodrama in which a dying woman tells her husband she needs to see a previous lover one last time.

At the audition, She (Amanda Morrow) reads with understudy Kevin (Brian Butler), much younger and quite unacceptable in the kissing department. “You make a face sort of like you’re going to eat me,” she says.

But that’s nothing compared to the shock when, at the first rehearsal, she learns she’s been cast opposite a former lover, here called He (no name for him either, but he’s played by John DeCarlo). And, with life imitating art, both relationships ended badly. Both have moved on: she is now married to The Husband (Dallas McLaughlin) and has a teenage daughter, Angela (Sara de la Isla). He is about to move in with schoolteacher Laurie (Christina Flynn).

“Stage Kiss” follows He and She (pardon the bad grammar) through the rehearsal of this make-believe story to opening night – along with the real-life disruptions caused by the unfortunate casting.

But Ruhl is nothing if not surprising. Just as we’ve settled in with this play-within-a-play, Ruhl tosses in yet another play. I’ll leave the details for you to discover.

You could get artistic whiplash watching a good play about two bad plays and bouncing back and forth between reality and art (if art is quite the word), but that’s what makes Ruhl’s plays so much fun.

“Stage Kiss” isn’t Ruhl’s best play, but it certainly does offer an amusing evening in the theater. I especially enjoyed Daren Scott’s sardonic turn as Adrian Schwalbach, the director of this circus.

Congratulations to Morrow and DeCarlo for their ability to switch characters on a dime, but McLaughlin’s Husband gets the best line: “Kiss me in a place with no history and no furniture.”

Commissioned by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, “Stage Kiss” is a long and amusing in-joke about actors, lovers, theater and life. It is is supremely silly and not a bit plausible, but always fun to watch.

The details

“Stage Kiss” plays through March 1 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.