Kiss begins as a genial, if overwrought, drawing room comedy with more than a soapy hint of telenovela. Love is all, marriage is a goal, and passions seethe and spill all over the stage. There are funny bits involving miscommunication, farcical slamming of doors, and the cast invests realism into the melodrama. But one can't help but wonder what this is doing on a Canadian Stage stage.
It is diverting enough, as two hyper-sexualized men compete for the affections of a delightfully dithering Naomi Wright (A Room of One's Own, Julius Caesar). Greg Gale (The Crackwalker, His Greatness) is sleazy seductiveness personified, and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio (Blood Weddings) twitches against type while still maintaining much machismo. Mix in Dalal Badr as the spark who uncovers the truths, and it is all dramatic, intense and comical. But it seems as if powerhouse actors are being wasted on a trifle.
Until the twist. And it is a very good twist. So good that I won't provide a spoiler here (and neither does the playbill: a good chunk of it is handed out on the way out of the theatre). The froth and fun become a pitch black comedy mocking political theatre, deliberate first world ignorance, and theatre practitioners in general. It is very nasty, viciously funny and heart-rending. And we now learn why Theatre Smash, ARC and Canadian Stage have conspired to present this Kiss from playwright Guillermo Calderon.
It is here that the cast really gets to shine and their befuddlement and naivety is as amusing as it is appalling. They dive into deeply flawed characters with as much subtle gusto as they have telenovelaed what proceeded. It shouldn't give away too much to note that the addition of Bahareh Yaraghi (Blood Weddings, The Closet) in a spectacular riff on JT Leroy is inspired. Everything we have just seen is upended and refocussed in a post-modern, meta-theatre indictment that had the audience torn between laughter and squirming.
There is one twist too many and a ferocious recap is as belaboured as it is brutal. Even the steady hand of director Ashlie Corcoran (The Gay Heritage Project, Mustard) and the by now exhausted cast, can't quite elevate the earnest finale into emotional catharsis. But it doesn't matter, what they have accomplished previously has already shaken the audience to the core. One leaves the theatre giddy with guilt and horribly, wonderfully, conflicted. And you will never say, "Can't we just watch TV?" again.