The play "Prelude to a Kiss" opens tomorrow Jan 18 at the Parkersburg Actor's Guild, and I was fortunate enough to see the preview production last night. The play was written in 1988, and premiered off-Broadway in 1990 starring Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker, later adapted into a widely seen film in 1992 starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan.
The film is largely a fantasy-romance, focusing more on the fantasy. The play however, deals with hard lessons about marriage and how our spouses seem to change after the vows.
We watch Peter and Rita through their awkward first meeting, their courtship, introduction to parents, and their rush to the altar. Rita is a pessimist, can't sleep, and is fearful of her surroundings, but Peter loves her for it. At the wedding, an old man arrives uninvited and requests to kiss the young beautiful bride. When he does, the old man and Rita switch souls, leaving Peter to go off on his honeymoon with what looks like his wife but is actually an old man.
Peter quickly realizes that something is wrong with Rita and she isn't the person he fell in love with. When he realizes what has happened, he tries to reunite Rita with the old man in hopes of switching the curse, but the old man inside Rita's body has fled to her parents and is threatening divorce.
Peter calls the old man's grown daughter to find out more about him and why he would want to do this, and discovers that the old man has lung cancer and only a few short months to live.
Yet Rita's family thinks Peter is crazy because everyone changes during their life; it's just a part of marriage. Peter must devise a plan to get Rita and the old man back together so that he can have his wife back.
The fantasy aspect of it all is significantly downplayed in the stage production, and especially this particular one on a smaller scale. The Parkersburg Actor's Guild presents it in a black box theater style. With minimal actors on stage, it allows the audience to get up close and personal with the characters.
JT Spivey plays Peter, and he's so genuine, so honest. He delivers monologues of his day-to-day as he changes clothes, talking to the audience like we're his roommates, his friends. He's incredibly natural.
Heather Allen plays pessimistic Rita with just the right amount of awkwardness. Her relationship with Peter seems strange and uncomfortable at first, but then is quickly believable and endearing. When she turns into the old man, her mannerisms immediately change and she does an excellent job of trying to be Rita and failing miserably.
And last but certainly not least, the man who steals the show is the old man played by John H. Lee. When we first see him onstage, he's just a creepy wedding onlooker that nobody invited. Into the second act, he is playing Rita, what should be a young newlywed girl, and he pulls it off in astonishing ways. His chemistry with Peter is almost better than Rita's. He is amazing, and worth the price of admission alone.