A different kind of fairy tale

By Gabrielle Gaston

Some might dread the prospect of sitting in a dark room for close to two hours with only the occasional chair for scenery and the haunting sounds of ’80s pop music making their way through the dusty air.

This, however, is the casual and oddly magical ambiance that surrounds Studio 115’s production, “Prelude to a Kiss.”

“Prelude” is an ideal black box theater piece. It relies primarily on the strength of the actors and the willingness of the audience to buy into a charming and unexpected love story. This balance is achieved brilliantly under the direction of Cort Brinkerhoff and the literal illumination of lighting designer David Smith.

Craig Lucas’ contemporary and skillfully written script puts a twist on the all-too-typical “boy meets girl” romance. The characters Peter (played by actor training program junior Jesse Dornan) and Rita (played by Stephanie Stoker) meet minutes into the play and fall almost instantly in love, but the charm of “Prelude” lies in the snappy dialogue and an unexpected twist.

Peter and Rita begin their romance rather mundanely. Soon, fate throws them for a loop that’s not only unbelievable, but also threatens to destroy the young love they are both so happy to find. Lucas’ play is a dark fairytale that forces one to wonder at the conditionality of love and the fragility of the human state.

The script calls for locales ranging from the interior of a local dive bar, where likely no one knows his or her own name, to the shores of a Jamaican paradise.

Dornan does a brilliant job of avoiding Richard Gere-esque dopiness. His Peter displays humor as crisp as his frustration and sadness are touching; and Stoker exquisitely brings Rita to life. The plot calls for Rita to display a range of contrasting emotions, which Stoker embodies with ease and flair.

The engaging supporting cast beautifully augments the leads. Many actors, including 18-year-old freshman Jaten McGriff, are required to play multiple characters. Fast-moving and expertly executed transitions showcase the actors throughout “Prelude.”

One actress in particular stood out with her portrayal of Rita’s humorous and believable mother. ATP sophomore Melissa Burns is new to the U theater department, but she skillfully creates what could easily have been just another Jersey wife. Burns’ attention to detail and physicality meld beautifully in a likeable cross-somewhere between June Cleaver and Lois Griffin.

“Prelude to a Kiss” is a smart, sardonic and ADD-friendly production that will leave your dramatic lips a-tingle.