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‘Prelude to a Kiss’ by Craig Lucas Opens Off-Broadway

March 15, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″Prelude to a Kiss,″ a wonderful new play by Craig Lucas, dissects romance, from expectation to infatuation to disillusionment to reality and then back again through the strangest of circumstances.

This quirky, modern fairy tale celebrates the many possibilities of love, not to mention life. And the play, buoyed by the author’s inventive imagination and often witty dialogue, embraces them all. It’s no accident that the evening’s most persistent image is an open window with a view of unending sky.

″Prelude to a Kiss,″ which opened Wednesday at off-Broadway’s Circle Rep, begins simply enough. Two young New Yorkers, Peter (Alec Baldwin) and Rita (Mary-Louise Parker), meet at a party, fall in love, go out to New Jersey to meet her folks and get married. At the wedding, Rita is kissed by an uninvited guest (Barnard Hughes), an old man no one seems to know.

On their honeymoon, Peter notices his wife has changed. How much is not readily apparent until Act 2 when the husband discovers an astonishing transfer of personalities - and souls.

But the exchange is more than a ″Twilight Zone″ trick. Lucas has devised some affecting moments for his baffled trio as they try to sort out their mixed-up lives. Peter wants back the woman he first met. His desperation, particularly in Baldwin’s fine, funny performance, is heartfelt. Parker, an adorable actress and a first-rate comedian, creates two distinctive, if slightly off-center characters.

The rumpled Hughes is a marvel, particularly in a poignant scene near the end of the play when he ruminates on all the things one has to put up with in life. Don’t worry, he says, it’s worth it. And there are two hilarious cameos by Larry Bryggman and Debra Monk as the girl’s puzzled parents.

In the past, Lucas has delighted in putting his lead characters in unusual predicaments. Last season, he scored at Circle Rep with ″Reckless,″ a dark comedy about a woman who learns on Christmas Eve that her husband wants her dead. In ″Prelude to a Kiss,″ Peter couldn’t be more bewildered, but by the time the curtain falls, he has learned to accept his partner for what and who she is.

The direction by Norman Rene is fast-paced, as rapid as Loy Arcenas’ quick changing sets that glide on and off the tiny stage.

The title, ″Prelude to a Kiss,″ comes from a 1930s Duke Ellington song of romantic yearning. Sung by Ella Fitzgerald, it opens the play as the two lovers stand alone in separate spotlights. And it closes the evening, with the young couple poised at that open window, ready for anything that might come. The adventure, Lucas suggests, is all. In ″Prelude to a Kiss″ that makes for an extraordinary journey.


One of the season’s more strenuous performances is now on view at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater where Kathryn Grody details the tribulations of motherhood in the autobiographical ″A Mom’s Life.″

The actress, wife of actor Mandy Patinkin, looks at one day in the life of an overeducated Upper West Side Manhattan mother. Not only does Grody play herself but she also impersonates her two sons, Isaac, age 7, and Gideon, age 2 1/2 . She expertly juggles all three roles.

The woman is an accomplished story-teller, and her tale is a triumph of determination over an ever-increasing parade of domestic duties. If her material produces smiles of recognition rather than belly laughs, it’s the nature of play. Those who have been there will nod their heads in sympathy. Those who haven’t will not be tempted to try parenting. The exhaustion is not contagious.