Review: Epic Theatre’s fascinating Kiss Kiss

The circle game
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 16, 2011
AROUND AND AROUND Broccoli and Gorgone.
Good theater doesn't take much besides talent Kiss Kiss, adapted and directed by Kevin Broccoli and presented by his Epic Theatre Company, couldn't be simpler in any regard, and it's simply terrific. It's not being staged in a barn after he snapped his fingers and said, "Let's put on a play!" but nearly so: it's at the William Hall Library in Cranston through August 21.

The homage is based on the 1900 play La Ronde (Reigen), by Austrian author and playwright Arthur Schnitzler, who frequently prompted anti-Semitic diatribes because of his work's sexual content. He kept La Ronde out of public circulation for two decades because he knew it would offend, being a series of conversations between lovers, one of whom would next be talking with the next character. Like the round dance that the title refers to, this could go on endlessly, until the final person encounters the first one.

Half of the 10 characters are male and half female, but all-male casts and all-female casts will portray both genders on alternate performances. I saw just the male cast, but the concept made me wonder at the time how the dynamics might change with women (Dani Cameron, Ashley Arnold, Laura Minadeo, Gabbie Whitney, and Alyssa Gorgone). Broccoli has performed or produced numerous productions with gay characters and concerns, and reversing roles in this way forces us to examine our gender expectations.

The play lasts less than an hour, so each of the 10 encounters are brief. The significance of the title is established nicely in the first meeting, between The Whore (Kevin Broccoli) and The Soldier (Patrick Cullen). "How much?" and "depends" take on greater significance when, asked how much for a kiss, the prostitute says that she doesn't kiss. "Kissing is complicated," she explains. Maybe that's why no customer has ever asked her for one before.

So in the next scene, when The Soldier asks for a goodbye kiss from The Maid (Alex Gorgone), that's not as casual as it would sound if we hadn't witnessed the previous exchange. The interplay this time is further enhanced by the young woman gradually revealing that she is starting this dalliance not just for sex but as a power play.

By now we understand that some subtext or other as well as a kiss is stringing together these set pieces. So when The Maid is subsequently trysting with The Young Gentleman (Broccoli), we wonder what is deeply behind his masochistic requests for her to slap and hit him. He has gone to the right person when he is next with The Young Wife (Tim Creapeau). She all but oozes venom as she describes in detail how she would like to beat and kill her husband, not having gone farther than being mean to him in actuality. But why in the world does she want The Young Gentleman to propose to her so that she can turn him down? We find out.

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