Kiss – Review by Tom Nissley

A fascinating reproduction of a small ensemble gathered in Damascus to watch a Television miniseries is playing at Yale Rep right now. Its purpose is to say something big about how little we understand of the crisis in Syria: the pain, the danger, the devastation and death of persons and a culture. And, it certainly succeeds.

“KISS,” by Guillermo Calderon, at first appears to be a slightly clunky play about some friends revealing otherwise unspoken thoughts to each other. Youssif (a superbly flexible James Cusaati-Moyer) arrives early to have extra moments with Hadeel (Sohina Sidhu). They are best friends each of the other’s significant other, but with a little sparring confess that they have between themselves a complete attraction that cannot be denied, so they will get married. Then Ahmed (Ian Lassiter) arrives. He is Hadeel’s boyfriend and Yousiff’s best friend. In an aside he tells Yousiff that he is nervous because he is ready to propose to Hadeel. Whoops.

Who has not yet arrived for their regular soiree is Bana (Hend Ayoub), Yussif’s girlfriend. She is an actress, likely to be on the TV they have gathered to watch, but tonight she is delayed. Ahmed does propose to Hadeel, who says yes before a dumbfounded Yussif; Bana arrives, explaining that she has been delayed by a kiss. There is a lot of finger-pointing as Hadeel begins to come clean about whom she will marry. Yussif averts his eyes. (Magnificently)! Then Hadeel collapses into a dead faint, and Bana exits by jumping out of the window, while both Yussif and Ahmed try to revive Hadeel.

So, the play has ended, but just as suddenly it now begins, when Bana enters again and takes a microphone to explain that this is a team doing a play written by an unnamed woman in Syria for whom they have searched by Skype, and they have finally reached her to ask if they are doing the play correctly? They ask their questions and learn that they have missed a lot of the author’s intent. So, they start again, wanting to do it right.

To say more would be unfair because you need to follow the revelations and the changes as they happen in the theater. But put this play on your radar. Its message is powerful, and the team of actors is a joy to behold.

The intricate set (Ao Li), a feature that Yale Rep often does well, is a mix of elaborate structure and great projections (Wladimiro A Woyno R), including how we are able to follow the Skype conversation from a refugee camp in Syria to the stage in New Haven. Lighting (Erin Earle Fleming) and Sound Design (Michael Costagliola), including original music, all are impressive and significant in the production, as are costumes by Cole McCarty. Evan Yionoulis directs “Kiss,” with a fine hand. Two other persons who deserve mention for their help in interpreting the script are Abubakr Ali and Rasha Zamamiri.

In a program note, Calderon reminds us that his experience in his native Chile, where he knew the excesses of a dictator under the government of General Augusto Pinochet, contributed to the writing of “KISS,” with an eye to what is happening in Syria today. His interview is worth reading, and other elements of the playbill also round out the experience of this confrontational play in a time when confrontation is so relevant to the American experience. A nod to the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services of Connecticut (IRIS) is part of the Calderon interview as well. I personally appreciate the plethora of ways in which Yale Drama reaches to and includes the New Haven community and surrounds in this relevant production.

I thought there was too much laughter, at times, in the earlier scene, and I imagined the coughing could have been more robust in the latter. See how it seems for you.

www.yalerep.org for information or tickets, or call 203-432-1234

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre posted May 5, 2018

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