The Wabash College Theater Department brings laughs and romance galore this weekend with “Stage Kiss.” The romantic comedy with an ensemble cast is an intimate but cleverly constructed work that places you right in the middle of all the melodrama that professional actors can conjure in their personal lives.
“Stage Kiss” tells the story of two estranged lovers that cross paths a decade after their separation when they are cast together in a mediocre stage play. What makes matters worse is the unfortunate coincidence that they happen to be playing the romantic leads. The plot of “Stage Kiss” continues to mirror the plot of the play-within-the-play as it unfolds, blurring the line between character and actor as the two ex-lovers are drawn closer and closer to each other onstage.
So what makes “Stage Kiss” work? Its foundation is built on an extremely solid script. Many stage plays, especially comedies, struggle to balance effective pacing, thematic exploration and natural dialogue. Sarah Ruhl’s script checks all of these boxes and then some. The only minor flaw worth mentioning is a slightly slow beginning, but the pace picks up quickly as soon as the two leads finally meet. With its cleverly placed jokes and tender realism, “Stage Kiss” strikes the perfect balance between “rom” and “com”.
However, a good script is nothing without the right execution, and Director Michael Abbott ’85 and Co. deliver quality execution by the truckload.
Krystal Hernandez, a professional actress from New York City, brings both star power and acting prowess to Crawfordsville as She. Her portrayal effortlessly runs from bubbly and awkward to biting and sarcastic to raw and sympathetic.
Drew Johannes ’23 was born to play He. His comedic chops are on full display, but he truly shines in his chemistry with Hernandez. The vicious barbs between the two create an electric experience; it could be the spark of romance, or it could be the beginning of a fire that burns the entire production down.
Tommy Oppman ’25 as the Director solidifies his status as a rising star on the Wabash stage. His energetic physicality fills the stage, but he truly excels in his small, humanizing mannerisms that can only be appreciated in as intimate a theater as the Experimental.
Dario Banuelos ’23 crushes as Kevin. His deliberate awkwardness is the secret ingredient that elevates every scene in which he uses it. Many accolades could and should be given to him, but the most notable is that it takes a great actor to portray a believably bad actor.
Betsy Swift is fantastic as Millicent/Laurie. She nails Laurie’s Midwestern demeanor with accurate mannerism, but more importantly a nuanced sense of motivation.
Luke Fincher ’24 also shines as Husband/Harrison. He brings a grounded earnestness in his serious moments, and a Mid Atlantic breathlessness to rival Old Hollywood in his comic ones.
Lastly, Delada Mudd makes her Wabash Theater Debut as Millie/Angela. In the latter role especially, she portrays the character with a striking but appropriate bluntness.
On the technical side of things, each department is firing on all cylinders.
The scenic design, led by Adam Whitteredge, uses the intimate Experimental Theater to its full potential. The scenery varies from sparse black-box minimalism to a richly run-down New York apartment set, and each level of detail is executed seamlessly.
The costumes, designed by Andrea Bear, are equally diverse and skillful. Every costume feels rich and lived in, but the rehearsal scenes especially blend the disparate styles of the characters’ street clothes and assigned costume pieces to accentuate the theme of fiction bleeding into reality.
All in all, “Stage Kiss” has all the qualities that a romantic comedy should have. Its exciting chemistry, enthralling premise and surprising twists and turns deliver guaranteed success. “Stage Kiss” runs February 22-25: a rom-com that you and your girlfriend will love.