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A CurtainUp Review

Kiss and Cry
By Julia Furay

What I love is when you do that triple lutz/triple bypass combination. --- Fiona Blake

The timing for Kiss and Cry now at Theater Ten Ten couldn't be better. For starters, the play tells the story of an Olympic figure skater just as the real Olympics begin in Turin. Not only that, but the issues of public image and celebrities marrying for convenience that it raises are also at the forefront of today's pop culture discourse, as well. Just look at Douglas Carter Beane's hit over at Second Stage, The Little Dog Laughed.

Kiss and Cry offers its own variation on this theme. Young starlet Fiona (Julie Leedes), famous for vampire movies, befriends Stacy (David Lavine), the male half of a pairs figure skating duo. When the tabloids mistakenly assume that they've hooked up (in fact, they're both involved in same-sex relationships), Fiona convinces Stacy to endorse the rumor in order to promote both their careers (she is aching to become a Respected Actress, Stacy and his partner are looking to win gold at the next Olympics). Since they adore each other platonically anyway the idea seems win-win, and so they become one of those nauseatingly ubiquitous celebrity couples. They even make workout videos together.

The marriage of convenience doesn't have a happily ever after outcome, however. The sham soon begins to wreak havoc with Fiona and Stacy's personal and professional lives, and the story begins to live up the the last word of the title.

Tom Rowan has stuffed Kiss and Cry with intelligent discussions of celebrities, friendship, relationships, sports and homosexuality, leaving us with plenty of food for thought. But, while the appealing cast and substantive content keep the audience involved, even the more soapy elements don't prevent the premise from feeling like just that: a premise, rather than a realistic situation. The problem is that Rowan is far more adept at depicting friendships and writing philosophical discussions than he is at advancing the plot. It's great to see the close friendship between Fiona and Stacy develop, but their decision to fake a relationship neither rings true for either character -- or, for that matter, make much practical sense. If Fiona wanted to date another celebrity, why would she pick someone who's only newsworthy every four years? And if she wants to be a serious actress, why is she so eager to insert herself into the tabloids as if she were another Paris Hilton?

These flaws become somewhat maddening as Rowan and director Kevin Newbury again and again bring us into the action by emphasizing the appealing performances and convincing us with some great onstage friendships, only to pull us right back into disbelief by an eye-rolling plot point or sudden left turn in characterization. What makes the dichotomy more frustrating is that at two-and-a-half hours the play overstays its welcome so that what was an interesting discourse early on eventually feels condescending and like navel-gazing and condescending. There just isn't enough substance in the piece to merit this much talkiness.

There's no question that these days it's a treat to see six actors in a new play, and for all to be excellent. Leedes, in particular, balances movie-star appeal with a sneaky determination to always get her own way. She's completely convincing end works hard to sell her sudden transformation back into a militant lesbian in the second act.. Because this is really Stacy's story more than Fiona's and the inevitable sad ending is his tragedy more than hers, Lavine's standoffish, insecure and sweet Stacy is particularly affecting. Timothy Dunn and Nell Gwynn as Stacy and Fiona's respective lovers may be more or less mouthpieces for the virtues of being Out and Proud, but they do so in completely different and believable ways. And Reed Prescott as Stacy's skating friend (with a secret!) and Elizabeth Cooke as Stacy's born-again pairs partner round out the cast beautifully.

The strong cast almost but not quite offsets the exasperating elements of this play, but they certainly make this and future Theater Ten Ten's production worth checking out .

Playwright: Tom Rowan
Directed by Kevin Newbury
Cast: Julie Leedes (Fiona), David Lavine (Stacy), Nell Gwynn (Lauren), Timothy Dunn (Trent), Reed Prescott (Ethan), Elizabeth Cooke (Brittany)
Set Design: Robert Monaco
Costume Design: Joanne Haas
Lighting Design: Diana Kesselschmidt
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission).
Theater Ten Ten, 1010 Park Avenue, 212-288-3246 ext. 3
From 2/10/06 to 3/12/06; opening 2/13/06
Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm
Tickets: $19
Reviewed Julia Furay on February 12th.
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