Beware the paralyzing power of public perception. In Theater Ten Ten's engrossing revival of Kiss and Cry, playwright Tom Rowan adeptly examines two arenas in which public persona is a make-or-break factor—figure skating and Hollywood. Actors and figure skaters achieve fame only to become veritable public property, spawning legions of fans obsessed not only with their talents but also with the most infinitesimal details of their personal lives. Rather than confront the origins of our obsession with celebrity, Rowan approaches his subject on a more personal level, chronicling the lives of two young stars with wit and sensitivity as they package themselves for public view. But the images they create, of course, bear little resemblance to the lives they truly wish to lead.
Stacy and Fiona first meet in Los Angeles at the premiere party for Fiona's new movie, Vampire Campus. Stacy is an up-and-coming pairs figure skater, while Fiona longs to appear in more substantial films. Discovering their shared preference for same-sex partners, they form a fast friendship. As they exit the party, a photographer snaps a picture, and their relationship suddenly becomes fodder for celebrity gossip columnists.
Pouncing on what she perceives as a golden opportunity, Fiona suggests that they play along with the story, letting their fans believe they are a couple. Stacy initially hesitates, but after a disquieting conversation with his skating partner, Brittany (who wonders whether he is a "faggot" or a "homo" in the chilling, derisive language of fundamentalist homophobia), he accepts Fiona's offer.
Embraced by the press, their relationship flourishes, and their careers do, too. Fiona finally lands a more legit role, while Stacy and Brittany win nationals and begin to prepare for the Olympics. As the relationship spins out of control, however, what was intended as a brief courtship turns into a marriage, spawning action figures and exercise videos; their personal lives, consequently, begin to feel the negative effects of their elaborate pantomime.
Stacy becomes involved with a fan named Trent, who begins to complain loudly about the enforced secrecy of their relationship, warning Stacy, "Lies come back to haunt you." And Fiona, who has lived with her girlfriend Lauren for years in their East Village apartment, has hell to pay when Lauren—usually immersed in alternative, feminist publications—finally uncovers her deception.
Lauren's rift with Fiona runs deeper than the matter of falsified sexuality, however. Committed to reaching people through the progressive theater she creates, Lauren has written plays for Fiona to perform that support their shared artistic vision. She accuses Fiona of selling out and "merchandising" herself to the mainstream culture, and their ensuing argument about the transformative powers of art is one of the play's most tautly written, directed, and performed scenes.
Director Kevin Newbury moves the action forward at a controlled pace that never feels rushed or labored. Clever voice-overs and upbeat music animate the transitions between scenes, and Robert Monaco's austere set keeps the focus on the performers.
For a show with figure skating as a main subject, it could be problematic that we never actually get to see any skating. Locker room scenes bring us close, however, and Joanne Haas's beautiful skating costumes add believability to the actors' athleticism.
Most of the cast participated in the play's hit run at the 2004 Fringe Festival, and the veterans have their characters firmly in hand. David Lavine is exceedingly earnest and lovable as Stacy, wearing his heart on his sleeve so palpably that, watching closely, you might even see him blush. Julie Leedes brings a sunny, girl-next-door energy to Fiona, likable even when her calculating actions threaten to expose her self-centeredness.
As Lauren, Nell Gwynn is instantly persuasive as a feminist playwright with transform-the-world ideals, and her intensity is tempered by her sure-footed delivery of many of the play's most ironic lines. Elizabeth Cooke offers a flawless performance as Brittany, innocently spouting the maxims of her fundamentalist upbringing, and Reed Prescott turns in a touching performance as Stacy's conflicted figure-skating friend-cum-lover, Ethan. Only Timothy Dunn, the cast's newcomer, struggles a bit with the bombastic Trent, and his over-the-top quality distracts at times from the realism of the other performances.
As Brittany laments the skating duo's loss of their "wholesome Christian kid appeal," it becomes clear that very nearly everyone has an image to sell. In Kiss and Cry, choosing to compromise your identity brings devastating consequences, and it is impossible to delude others without somehow deluding yourself.
Even realizing your utmost dreams, it turns out, offers little relief, and Fiona and Stacy become both perpetrators and victims of erratic cultural expectations. As a bit of dialogue attests, one must "encourage the untrue rumors to shut down the true ones." But when the truth is eradicated, what steps in to take its place?