Lips and Laughter: Goodman Theatre’s “Stage Kiss”

When former lovers get cast as romantic leads in a 1930s melodrama, the line blurs between fake lip-locking on stage and real smooching.

“Stage Kiss” is the latest collaboration by director Jessica Thebus and playwright Sarah Ruhl; most recently, Thebus directed Ruhl’s stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” at the Court Theatre.

But “Orlando” and “Stage Kiss” could not be more different. Unlike the gender-bending comedy in “Orlando,” the humor in “Stage Kiss” is more mainstream, giving average theatergoers and critics alike sore cheeks from laughing too hard. At a Monday night performance of this world premiere, the audience was ebullient, gushing with chuckles.

While “Stage Kiss” centers around two plays-within-in-a-play and the relationship between He and She—the nameless romantic leads in “Stage Kiss” played by Mark L. Montgomery and Jenny Bacon, respectively—the play’s most hilarious bits come from the perfectly cast ensemble, from the dopey understudy (Jeffrey Carlson) to the flighty director (Ross Lehman).

The rekindled love between He and She also hilariously complicates their other relationships; He lives with his girlfriend and She is married with a daughter, Angela (the scene-stealing Sarah Tolan-Mee). The play’s second act starts with a bang when He and She’s significant others find out about their tryst. Erica Elam is hysterical as He’s too-nice girlfriend, digesting the news with help from marijuana and forceful sandwich-making. And Scott Jaeck is perfect as She’s pragmatic husband when he suggests that his wife falls in love with whoever she’s in a play with.

But the comedic timing and chemistry between Bacon and Montgomery is what drives the play forward; and Bacon shines delivering Ruhl’s more thought-provoking monologues about the act of kissing, love and happiness. Audience members will surely leave the theater wondering how Bacon and Montgomery felt about stage kissing one another in “Stage Kiss.”

“Stage Kiss” runs through June 5, and tickets are available by calling 312-443-3800 or visiting goodmantheatre.org.