Families in Conflict

IT's 'Kisses' exudes humanity, while LTW's 'Wife' delivers hilarity

Iron Kisses is an odd title for the play currently running at Invisible Theatre. It penetrates the complexities of family dynamics, but does so with warmth and humanity rather than a cutting edge.

The show begins with actor Dwayne Palmer alone on stage, sitting in a plain wooden chair and speaking to the audience in gentle tones. He pulls a drawing by a child out of a box and explains that the yellow lines emanating from the figure's head are not strands of hair, but rays of happiness.

Then comes an unexpected moment of confusion: Palmer says that he's the child's mother. It almost seems like a mistake, but the picture is signed to Mommy.

Just as you try to work out some La Cage aux Folles scenario in your head, Palmer transforms from Mommy to Daddy. He sits back, changes his posture, deepens his voice and alters his speech patterns—and suddenly, we meet the child's father.

It's a wonderful moment of theatricality—a transformation that could never work on film. And the fluid portrayal of gender illustrates the play's point almost as well as any of the dialogue. Playwright James Still suggests that gay marriage—a major theme in the play—is not about "issues" or "controversy," but simply about human relationships. Throughout, Still focuses on the complexities of his characters rather than drawing lines in the sand. The mother and father Palmer plays in the first scene are parents to Barbara and Billy, and Billy has just sent them an invitation: He is marrying his boyfriend in San Francisco.

Billy's parents are an old-fashioned, church-going, Midwestern couple. While they don't approve of homosexuality, they do love their son, and their concerns are treated with great compassion. They are struggling to find balance in a world that seems to have changed around them.

Actress Carrie Hill steps into the dual role of Mother and Father in the second scene, picking up the story with the parents' return from Billy's wedding. Certain mannerisms and speech patterns carry over, but Hill's Mother seems more agitated and sarcastic than Palmer's, and her Father is less aloof.

That's partly because the actors each have a distinct stage presence. Hill, for one, has a bright, charismatic energy that informs her characters. But the two actors' portrayals also depend on which sibling is at the center of each scene.

While the first scene deals with Billy, the second focuses on his sister, Barbara. After marrying young and having two children, Barbara now faces divorce. Conversations with her mother always end in argument, so she turns to her brother for support. Hill and Palmer transition into playing the sister and brother, and in the final scene, they're onstage together as the siblings, exhibiting a wonderful intimacy that paints a lifetime of shared experience.

Director Gail Fitzhugh has guided her actors to create moving, nuanced performances with plenty of charm and humor. The title may be Iron Kisses, but the outcome for the audience is a compassionate smile and a warm heart.

f you're driving along East Speedway Boulevard and hear gales of laughter, there's no need to puzzle over the source. It's probably coming from Live Theatre Workshop, where the naughty British comedy Wife Begins at Forty has just opened.

The play is a hilarious look at two couples, and the cast demonstrates they're willing to go quite far for a laugh. Director Sabian Trout keeps the play's dialogue fast and tight and builds the physical comedy to gymnastic proportions.

Sex farces like Wife were a staple of the British stage for much of the 20th century. The plays would typically spend the first act winding up the springs of a plot built around the sexual peccadilloes of the middle class, then let loose in a whirlwind of slamming doors, miscommunication and mistaken identity. Wife clearly displays the genre's family features, but also breaks its DNA in some interesting ways.

In most farces, a man has a secret and goes to extraordinary lengths to keep it hidden. In this play, almost everyone has a secret (most of them not very well hidden). The comedy comes largely from the characters' futile attempts to deny the consequences of their actions.

Linda Harper (Kristi Loera) is a woman pushing 40 who has secretly decided to leave George, her uptight, grousing husband of 17 years. Rather than keeping the plan hidden, she confesses at the worst possible moment—just before the couple's anniversary party.

Keith Wick's performance as George is brilliant. He's a man with such a rigid perception of the world that he can't understand how someone could want more in life than new carpets and drapes, or could fail to appreciate his growing artificial-flower business. He handles Linda's bombshell with 37 different levels of hysteria.

The Dixons, the Harpers' neighbors, hew more closely to the more traditional farce formula. Betty (Rhonda Hallquist) and Roger (Eric Anson) are happily married, or so it seems. According to Roger, their happiness is sustained by his secret boinking of a barmaid twice a week. Anson plays Roger to a T, as a charismatic charmer oblivious to the impacts of his behavior.

It's difficult to bring a traditional farce to a close. Whether the hero successfully hides his lies, or whether everything comes crashing down around him, the final beat is often dissatisfying. But the secrets in Wife are exposed early on, and the comedy that follows is built on character rather than deceit, so those characters are able to earn themselves an ending full of hope.

The comedy of that final scene even exceeds everything that comes before. What happens once uptight George lets his hair down is practically a dance sequence, with each moment topping the last for sheer absurdity.

Ed Fuller, Brian McElroy and Shanna Brock round out the solid cast as George's father, his son and the family dog.

The dialogue crackles, and the jokes aim below the belt. The British accents are unconvincing, but that hardly matters. All in all, Wife is a raunchy, rollicking night of fun.

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