OK. I just saw the most exhilarating show of the season– and YOU MUST SEE IT too! Presented by The Huntington in association with Front Porch Arts Collective: K-I-S-S-I-N-G is as sweet and lovely as that little jingle suggests- audience and actors “sittin’ in a tree” in love with life and possibility! Supported by our common roots and deep connections across all boundaries, the show is like springtime in its passionate embrace of all that is joyful and life-affirming. This fresh world-premiere exuberantly penned by local playwright and poet Lenelle Moise is a thing of beauty, brilliantly channeling the optimism beneath the chaos in the zeitgeist with the promise of a new way forward.
The play takes off from a refreshin point of departure: it centers the global majority namely, characters of color, as well as women, and LGBTQ characters. In the first scene, we are plunged into a terrifying moment of crisis which shocked my heart open to everything that followed. One scene later the tone has abruptly shifted and we find ourselves laughing out loud as 15 year-old aspiring artist from the hood, Lala (a glorious Regan Sims) meets fraternal twin brothers– the gangly intellectual Dani (a charismatic Sharmake Yusuf) and the honey-tongued Albert (an irresistible Ivan Cecil Walks) who both go to the toney Covington School. Romance erupts in unexpected ways as Lala finds herself triangulating with these two very different siblings.
Lala is delighted to discover a kindred spirit in the nerdy, brilliant Dani whose mutual love of David Bowie sends her over the moon! Meanwhile the suave Albert, whose affect is decidedly more street than the fancy street he lives on, riles her up in more visceral ways. Albert’s dance moves also riled up the audience– we screamed as he popped and locked his way across the stage. Though this is not a musical, dance and movement are ingeniously used here to punctuate key emotional beats.
Inventively helmed by the Porch’s Co-Producing Artistic Director Dawn M. Simmons, and shaped by Moise’s insightful and hysterically on point dialogue, the play is poetry in motion propelled by the innocent almost giddy energy of these performances. Regan Sims is downright enchanting as the multifaceted Lala– witty, no-nonsense, alive with curiosity, sensitive, and a little goofy. On her weekly date with her stalwart father Jack (James Milord/”Joe Turner”), she fantasizes elegant interchanges over a cup of tea and a kiss on the hand. Lala’s mother Dot is a different story; Patrese D. McClain hits the stage like lightning, inducing gasps at the goddess-like hauteur she has adopted to protect her wounded soul.
Moise’s dialogue dazzles with insight, cracking open these characters as they crack up the audience! We were howling at perfectly timed hilarious interchanges as these characters explore themselves, each other, share the subtler aches and pains of living in complex families and the world, feeling out their own boundaries and the world’s assumptions about race, sex, feminism, class. There is only one character who’s left flailing, undeveloped, and unintegrated in the action, though he’s thematically relevant: the neighbor who seems tacked on to deliver a message about being grounded and nurtured by the natural world. I felt for Bobby Cius in the role who did his best to find some reason for being.
It all plays out on a simple, evocative set (Jason Ardizzone-West/scenic design) suggesting a tree, the leaves of a book, a museum, and more. Much of the action is set downstage and often right out to the audience locking in our attention. Gorgeous projections (Yee Eun Nam and Hannah Tran) plant this coming-of-age love story in an earthy and mythic garden– imagine Gustav Klimt on a tropical island. The vibe is sensuous and elegant, bringing us all back to an archetypal Eden as these teens awaken to the promise of love and life.
And that is the palpable atmosphere in which the play dwells– in the fullness and fluidity of life as the world opens up. I can’t think of a better play for right now as we begin to understand that life is a continuum and there are no hard and fast lines except the ones we make. The play juggles every stereotype and pre-conceived notion about who we are or should be, tosses them into the air, in an act of faith and creativity, and lets them rain back down in celebration like confetti. I was ecstatic as I left. K-I-S-S-I-N-G creates a space in which to be vulnerable, joyful, to breathe freely in this natural world and imagines what can happen– with a little grace and compassion. AN ABSOLUTE MUST SEE! K-I-S-S-I-N-G at the Calderwood Pavilion only through April 2 !