PRELUDE TO A KISS | The Huntington Theatre Company concludes its 28th season with Craig Lucas's 1988 drama. Peter and Rita have just exchanged their wedding vows when a old man kisses the bride and a different exchange takes place: her soul transfers into his body and vice versa. Will Peter cleave to the beautiful body with the soul of a stranger, or will he seek out his soulmate in the body of an old man? Lucas wrote the play during the dark days of the AIDS epidemic, and it's a fable in which the young, healthy, sexy partner, out of the blue, becomes sick and decrepit, but it doesn't work on the more general level of "you never really know who you're marrying," since Rita doesn't change — she just gets kidnapped. Here, under Huntington artistic director Peter DuBois, Brian Sgambati's Peter attacks his lines with a hip-ironic tone that makes his character seem unappealingly smug, and Cassie Beck fails to make Rita's terror of the world plausible. But there's good work from MacIntyre Dixon as the old man, Nancy E. Carroll and Michael Hammond as Rita's parents, and Cheryl McMahon as Rita's Aunt Dorothy. And the production is visually distinguished, with an excellent set by Scott Bradley and gorgeous lighting by Japhy Weideman. | Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave, Boston | 617.266.0800 or huntingtontheatre.org | Through June 13 | Curtain 7:30 pm Tues | 2 + 7:30 pm Wed | 10 am [June 3] + 7:30 pm Thurs | 8 pm Fri | 2 + 8 pm Sat | 2 + 7 pm [evening June 6] Sun | $20-$82

TIMON OF ATHENS | Shakespeare's least characteristic tragedy is also his toughest to pull off. Not so much the first half, when Timon treats his friends to extravagant dinners and showers them with gifts before going broke, but the second, which finds him sheltering in a cave and being visited by a series of Athenian acquaintances — it's unremittingly downbeat, and devoid of grand theatrical set pieces until the finale. Bill Barclay's new production for the always self-challenging Actors' Shakespeare Project reverses the odds: much of the first act is fatuous, but after a stunning visual coup just before intermission, the show improbably comes together, and the second act is a knockout. The four ensemble players (Steven Barkhimer, John Kuntz, Joel Colodner, and Michelle Dowd) who cover all the smaller roles do so in a broad satirical style. But the first act is grounded by the four leading actors: Bobbie Steinbach as Flavius, Will Lyman as Apemantus, Daniel Berger-Jones as Alcibiades (whose best scene is the one where his loyalty gets him exiled), and especially Allyn Burrows as Timon. And in the second act, the play becomes a tour de force for Burrows, raging in underwear and a torn, grimy shirt. In his exploration of Shakespeare's bitterest verse (the second half resembles Lear without the redemption), he defies what seem to be tonal limitations with a rich and varied vocal palette. | Midway Studios, 15 Channel Center St, Fort Point Channel, Boston | 866.811.4111 | Through June 13 | Curtain 7:30 pm Thurs | 7:30 pm Fri | 3 + 8 pm Sat | 2 pm Sun | $20-$47

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