So I realize that reading a play and actually seeing a play in real-time can both be completely different experiences, and that is what I’m going on to rank this reading of Ruhl’s play – it might be much better seen live on stage.
However, I happened to read this particular play, and after having seen reviews describing it as “funny” and “playful”, I ended up the read feeling rather the opposite of those adjectives. I would also add “really confusing” to that list of descriptors as the plot – wow. Confusing isn’t even the start of that, to be honest.
Using the description on the back of the book:
Award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl brings her unique mix of lyricism, sparkling humor, and fierce intelligence to her new romantic comedy Stage Kiss. When estranged lovers He and She are thrown together as romantic leads in a long-forgotten 1930s melodrama, the line between off-stage and on-stage begins to blur. A “knockabout farce that channels Noël Coward and Michael Frayn” (Chicago Tribune), Stage Kiss is a thoughtful and clever examination of the difference between youthful lust and respectful love. Ruhl, one of America’s most frequently produced playwrights, proves that a kiss is not just a kiss in this whirlwind romantic comedy.
And so I was rather expecting something light and frothy, perhaps on the level of P. G. Wodehouse’s or E. F. Benson’s sense of humor… Nope. I was wrong with that expectation. This play, the “whirlwind romantic comedy” wasn’t. I can say that the plot looks at the different ways that love can be viewed and how it can be hard to determine what’s “real love” and what’s not.
Ruhl places two former lovers (now broken up) in a stage audition to play characters who fall in love with each other in the play for which they are auditioning. It’s set as a 1930’s drama and the narrative flashes back and forth between present time and then (but that’s not that important, really) and, indeed, I seemed to spend most of my time trying to sort out who was whom when.
As the play continues, the audience is asked to consider what is real and what is not – it’s quite philosophical in places. The two lead actors are called “He” and “She” which is fine as a literary device, but got rather confusing for me, especially when the speaker was described as “She”, “She playing as Ada”, “He” etc.
So – I really wasn’t a big fan of the actual play reading itself, but in the hours after I had more fully digested it, my thoughts did return to it to consider some points. I would not say that this play was a straight-forward narrative, but it is a plot that gave me some things to think about later – and I would say that that is one characteristic of a good read.
(I would still recommend seeing this on stage though.)