Art within Cultural Context: “Kiss”

Kiss presented by ArtsEmerson
Written by Guillermo Calderón
Directed by David Dower

October 26 – November 19, 2017
Emerson Paramount Center՚s Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre
Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts
ArtsEmerson on Facebook

Review by Holly Goss

(Boston, MA) Kiss is a play within a play that tells the story of a zealous young theatre group՚s gross misinterpretation of a Syrian play called Kiss. These naive and fresh-faced actors, come up against a nasty dose of realism when they learn what Kiss really means. However the play falls apart when the cast try to diligently apply their new knowledge, to re-perform this seemingly simple love story and reveal the true horror of the war lurking underneath. This second performance falls flat and fails to deliver the big twist the audience anticipate. Kiss tackles a breadth of themes, the war in Syria, the importance of cultural context, the purpose of art. However, the writing is ultimately overly ambitious and is unable to get to the heart of these important questions.

Kiss is well suited to the cast, comprised of predominantly student actors from Emerson College.  This fresh-faced cast ultimately play themselves and their peers, when they Skype interview a Syrian woman in a blonde wig and sunglasses, who they believe is the playwright. The woman becomes visibly frustrated with their lack of understanding, she tells them to “read the newspaper”, when they ask foolish questions about the situation in Syria. This scene was definitely the strongest in the play, the cast played themselves with humility and humor, which made the audience reflect on their own willful ignorance of the Syrian crisis. Calderón reveals through the ՚writer՚ how everyday words and actions, a “cough”, a “kiss”, become tainted and sinister within the context of war.

Calderón՚s attempt to demonstrate the power of socio-political context in the interpretation of a play՚s true meaning is ambitious, but in the end the writing falls short. It is clear that the audience՚s new understanding,  is supposed to transform a “soap opera” into a profound piece of tragic drama. However the second performance of Kiss is not the radical rewrite the audience expect, but instead feels crass and shallow in the face of the real tragedy, the war in Syria. Perhaps this is Calderón՚s  point…

The use of screens and a camera crew is effective in capturing Calderón՚s postmodernist style. However, Kiss is fundamentally let down by Calderón՚s insistence on repeatedly telling the audience what to think, how to think and why we are thinking in that way. Calderón explicitly tells us “The play is not about the characters themselves, but about the audience who gathers around to see it”. We are not allowed to truly believe in the characters or their world, instead we are continually reminded we are watching a false construction of a false reality.

Overall the cast do a good job of bringing these somewhat 2D characters to life and ArtsEmerson should be commended for staging a play that draws attention the crisis in Syria and our reaction (or lack thereof) to in the West. However, Calderón is too ambitious in his writing and the play loses it impact. Kiss is a puzzling piece but ultimately underwhelming.

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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