It is good and right that playwright Craig Lucas is finding his plays revived on Broadway. “Reckless,” a spine-tingling dark comedy about a woman who must suddenly leap from complacent security into a world that has suddenly gone askew, was an extraordinary journey. It was revived in 2004 by the Manhattan Theater Club at the Biltmore Theater, its Broadway venue. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as effective as was its original Off-Broadway production in 1988. And the 1995 movie, despite the presence of Mia Farrow and Mary Louise Parker, was a complete disaster.
It is now the Roundabout Theater’s turn to tackle “Prelude to a Kiss,” Lucas’ subsequent fantastical comedy that originally started life Off-Broadway in 1990, but soon moved to Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. Most people are more familiar with the film version of “Prelude to a Kiss” that starred Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin (Baldwin played in the Off-Broadway production, but not in the Broadway transfer). What is especially nice and rewarding about this production is Robin Bartlett, who played Rachel in the original production of “Reckless” at the downtown Circle in the Square. She is now playing the role of the mother in “Prelude to a Kiss.” A Lucas alum, Bartlett is terrific and contributes an enlivening presence to this otherwise rather sedate yet genial production.
“Prelude to a Kiss” is an adult fairy tale. It is also a rather limp psycho-sexual parable about misappropriated sexual identities. In it, a young man named Peter (Alan Tudyk), distinguished only by his lack of distinction, and an insecure barmaid with issues named Rita (Annie Parisse) fall head over heels in love with each other upon their very first meeting at an upscale New York party.
Total commitment, instant gratification, some pretty background music, and the wedding day is soon at hand. At the ceremony, an old man, whom nobody recognizes, wanders in and plants a kiss on the unsuspecting bride. Presto, the old man (John Mahoney) changes identities with the bride. Of course, Peter hasn’t a clue. After all, she looks and sounds the same. That is until the Caribbean honeymoon, when Rita arouses Peter’s suspicions that something is wrong when she proceeds to buy expensive jewelry charged to her father, perversely changes her political views, and reverses some heretofore shared feelings about being a wife.
Peter is increasingly dismayed with the change in Rita. When disclosure looms, Rita runs back to her very peculiar parents (Bartlett and James Rebhorn), and Peter finds himself suddenly keeping house with the sweet old man who now quite wondrously displays all the qualities he once loved in Rita, that is, except for her sex, beauty, and youth. It all adds up to what might be called sophisticated whimsy. Would that the romantics were even remotely interesting people, or had the author the inclination to really explore the facilities and exigencies of love in its myriad forms, the play might have soared.
“Prelude to a Kiss,” under Daniel Sullivan’s empathetic direction, seems resolutely committed to the American playwright’s answer to magical realism. Lucas, who has written many intriguing and impassioned plays about the human condition including “Blue Window,” “The Dying Gaul,” “Small Tragedy,” “God’s Heart,” and “Stranger,” seems, unfortunately, to have left the heart and the soul out of his two primary characters, neither of whom seems worthy or complex enough for his courageously improbable theme.
Tudyk, who was recently seen on Broadway in Monty Python’s “Spamalot” and in “Epic Proportions,” is a most engaging actor who tackles Peter’s bewilderment with courageous elan. Parisse, who spoke in a strange tongue in the very weird Off-Broadway play “The Internationalist,” appropriates well enough Rita’s quirkiness and basically turn-offish idiosyncrasies. But she doesn’t hold a candle to the disarming warmth that Mahoney displays, especially in a key romantic episode involving a kiss with Tudyk. Rebhorn hits all the appropriately disaffecting notes as Rita’s dentist father. Fortunately, Bartlett is a joy as the giggling, wryly amusing Mrs. Boyle. Her presence adds a jolt to the otherwise merely bittersweet romanticism. Set designer Santo Loquasto has designed an artfully minimalist post-modern frame for a play that needs only a few ties to reality.
“Prelude to a Kiss,” Roundabout Theater Company at the American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42nd Street. $51.25 to $86.25. 212-719-1300.