Boyfriends may come and boyfriends may go, but the dating game will last forever, as will works dedicated to the crusade. Kiss Me on the Mouth, Melanie Angelina Maras’ paean to looking for love, fits squarely within this rubric. Yet even with the addition of another playwright – the smart Stephen Adly Guirgis directs Mouth -- this play still feels somewhat unrealized. Amy (Megan Hart) and Christina (Aubyn Philabaum) are lifelong friends navigating the New York dating circuit. One brief scene serves as prologue before each woman attaches herself to a man of varying commitment and credibility, so what we initially learn about the two female protagonists is limited. Amy is the guilt-ridden one of the two, citing Mother Theresa as a hero; Christina, on the other hand, is independently wealthy, likely alcoholic, and far more experienced.
Before Amy can get herself to a nunnery, though, both women have hitched their wagons to troubled trains. Andre (an amusing Troy Lococo), a Latin lover, manages to seduce Amy with his transparent, if humorous, lothario ways. It’s clear this relationship is going nowhere, but it takes Amy, who I assume has indeed dated in the past, far too long to realize this.
Amy eventually becomes a supporting player, however, as Christine’s relationship emerges as Mouth’s A storyline. She starts dating Gabriel (Ken Matthews), a tortured artist prone to hiding his love away. Their relationship looks like it might have potential at first – they take things slow, Christine opens up to him. As the play moves along, though, both Christine and Gabriel seem to do an about-face, making various repeated choices designed to self-sabotage.
Maras’ structure, still in somewhat raw form, has benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, Philabaum and Matthews get the opportunity to dig deep into their characters. Philabaum manages to justify her character’s need for gratification by suggesting that a neglectful upbringing has left her deeply empty inside. It’s a harrowing portrayal that emerges as the evening’s star turn. Matthews also imbues Gabriel with massive insecurity; he puts his art before his relationships but recognizes that he does so at his own peril. We see why a relationship between Christine and Gabriel might actually work – and while it can’t.
But we cannot learn about all four characters at once in this play. Some need to be established, while others provide revelation. Maras’ play needs to either focus on Christine and Gabriel’s relationship, or on Amy and Christine’s close-but-complicated friendship, but it currently straddles the line. Christine, we learn, has seduced past boyfriends of Amy's, and Amy has known about this duplicity. So why do they remain friends? It might be best for Maras to have provided more interaction between the two women at the play’s beginning, and fewer scenes involving both of their burgeoning relationships. Somehow, we need to know more about Amy and Christine, even if it means knowing less about Gabriel and Andre (limited as that character is to begin with.) Hart handles her material very capably, but she should have more of it.
This leads into another problem with the play: Guirgis would be wise to use fewer scene changes. There are too many short scenes in Mouth, which breaks the momentum. A show this minimalist shouldn’t require its actors to move one or two pieces of furniture on and off stage constantly. Laurie Helpern’s modern set, paired with Melissa Mizell’s lighting, does the trick just fine.
I like Maras’ voice, and look forward to hearing more from her. Mouth has plenty of potential, it just needs some work - like any good relationship.