There are so many unexpected twists and turns in this exciting drama, that seeing this one-act as the finale to Haven’s current season. is truly an emotional experience.
At first, the play is masked as a melodrama about four friends in Damascus who are united in their addiction to watching a particular soap opera but Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon has written a political story.
The play opens in Hadeel’s somewhat bland-looking apartment. This lovely young woman who’ll be hosting the evening’s get-together, settles in to relax and watch some television before her guests arrive for their viewing party.
Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. Arriving much earlier than the others, Youssif enters the living room with something important on his mind. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that long before the televised soap opera’s fireworks start, the emotional pyrotechnics of real life begin.
Soon Ahmed arrives, also a bit early. He and Hadeel have been in a romantic relationship for quite some time. Tonight Ahmed also appears to have something special he wants to share with his girlfriend.
One of the four friends who usually attends the weekly viewing party, is mysteriously late. When Youssif is asked the whereabouts of Bana, his actress girlfriend, he’s baffled.
No one seems to know exactly where she is or why she’s tardy, unless she had to work late this particular night. By the time Bana finally arrives at Hadeel’s apartment the melodramatic questions and confrontations have really heated up.
Bana breaks the focus on Hadeel, Youssif and Ahmed when she confesses to her friends that she’s been “kissed.” It’s only in the last portion of the play that we learn the true meaning of this confession.
As the play unfolds, the stereotype characters, the stilted dialogue (as if the translation is weak), the sometimes awkward blocking and even the plain, flimsy stage set alerts the audience that something strange might be going on here.
This group of friends, who weekly gather together to watch the Syrian version of a telenovela, seem to convey that their own lives have turned into their favorite television program. It isn’t until the final third of the play that Calderon presents all the pieces of the puzzle and we come to understand what we’ve seen. Again, to say more would give away the surprises that the playwright has in store.
Monty Cole is both a talented actor and adept director for this intimate production. He deftly manages to portray Ahmed, while also keeping the play well-paced, purposeful and, when necessary, staged presentationally.
The first two-thirds of the production is direct and mannered, in keeping with Calderon’s dramatic style. In the final section of the play, however, when several surprises are revealed, Cole keeps his cast honest and realistic, as they interact with the playwright via Skyping. And Cole wisely ramps up the tension and tempo during the final moments to effectively drive home Calderon’s message.
The rest of Cole’s cast is excellent. Arti Ishak, a gifted actress with a resume of wonderful work at Writers Theatre, ATC and Chicago Dramatists, is captivating as Hadeel. Once again she has what it takes to grab our interest and hold it until the very end
Another magnetic actor, Salar Ardebili, was the star of Broken Nose Theatre’s “Language Rooms” and Silk Road Rising’s “Through the Elevated Line.” Here, he plays Youssif with drive and animal passion.
Cassidy Slaughter-Mason is luminous and masterful as Bana, the lovely actress who, like the rest of the characters, is harboring a few secrets of her own. Gloria Imseih Petrelli is quite moving as the Woman and Sami Ismat does a fine job as her Interpreter.
In addition kudos must go to Jeffrey Levi, for his spot-on, often humorous palette of sound; and Liviu Pasar, for a terrific projection design that works so well, especially in such close confines. William Boles’ scenic work is very good and makes great use of the limited space available, as is Claire Chrzan’s superb lighting plot. Another artist’s work is evident in this production in Adam Goldstein’s fine dialect coaching.
Guillermo Calderon’s play isn’t perfect, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. The playwright does indeed take chances, as does Haven, which is what good art is often about. Calderon presents the idea that different cultures sometimes misinterpret each other, especially in their artwork. Without the appropriate understanding of a country, its people, their culture, historical events and even the slang, important ideas can get lost in the translation. The final scene of this play is a little frustrating, and thus the play
doesn’t end with a bang. But everything that leads up to the end is riveting, well-acted and deserving of the thunderous applause this company earned opening night.
DETAILS: “Kiss” is presented by Haven Theatre at The Den’s Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. For tickets and other information visit Haven Chi. www.havenchi.org.
For more shows visit Theatre In Chicago.