I Didn’t Make the World, I Just Live Here: Front Porch Arts Collective and The Huntington present “K-I-S-S-I-N-G”

Sharmarke Yusuf and Regan Sims; Photo: T Charles Erickson.

Presented by the Front Porch Arts Collective and The Huntington
Written by Lenelle Moïse
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Dramaturgy by Charles Haugland 
Choreography by Misha Shields
Intimacy consultant: Gregory Geffrard
Voice coaching by Christine Hamel, Rebecca Schneebaum
Cultural consultant: New England Aces

March 3, 2023 – April 2, 2023
The Calderwood Pavilion/BCA
Boston, MA 02116
2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Digital access to the filmed performance is available until April 16, 2023. 

Spoiler Alert: New England Theatre Geek discusses a central theme of K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Knowing this information shouldn’t ruin the play’s other surprises, character arcs, or ending. Your reaction to this plot point, how the characters react to it, and the audience’s reaction may teach you about your own inherent biases.

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, MA —  The Huntington and The Porch must please update their summary for K-I-S-S-I-N-G. It no longer accurately describes the show. I thought there was going to be a lot more David Bowie and at least one quote from bell hooks. There are no pizza box art projects or fireworks displays. The co-production is/was highly anticipated. That part can stay.

K-I-S-S-I-N-G is a quasi-Cinderella story about the emotional and sexual awakening of Lala (Regan Sims), a young woman living on the edge of poverty who craves art, poetry, and the feel of warm, supportive arms around her. She lives with her emotionally stunted mother Dot (the ethereal Patrese D McClain who dominated the stage with her presence) and her little brother Max. Lala’s father Jack (James Milord) loves Lala like the sun loves the sparkle on the ocean’s waves, but he can only visit once a week.

Lala is caring for Max when she meets Albert (Ivan Cecil Walks) and his fraternal twin Dani (Sharmarke Yusuf). Albert catastrophically bombs at flirting with Lala. Lala firmly takes him to task. Dani treats Lala with respect. Lala responds in kind. Lala and Dani find a kinship in each other they’ve never experienced with anyone else. Together, the three learn more about what it is to be human they had ever before. Bobby Cius plays the Neighbor and other small roles. 

Some strains of jasmine can grow in New England. They survive through the winter!

K-I-S-S-I-N-G has the audience in complete shock in the first five minutes and then laughing hysterically for the next fifteen. Moïse’s writing and Simmon’s staging give the audience emotional whiplash and it’s awesome. 

Strip all of the other characters from this play and Sims, Yusuf, and Walks still deliver strong performances in a story about three teenagers who desperately need a reliable adult on their sides but manage pretty well without one. It’s no secret that most adults don’t know what they’re doing. Lala, Dani, and Albert are living the proof. 

Sims carries K-I-S-S-I-N-G. It is her show, and it shows her off perfectly. Sims has great range and us feeling a broad range of emotion too. From the moment she steps on stage, Sims has us sympathizing with Lala’s predicament as an unempowered, thirsty young woman determined to taste happiness where she can find it. 

Sims took us on Lala’s journey and, on a very audience interactive evening, opened up a few windows in the fourth wall. It was gracious of her meet us where we were in a show that didn’t call for it, too. More than a couple of us showed our gratitude with non-western European methods. 

The choreography by Misha Shields was killer! The dancing by Ivan Cecil Walks was… I don’t know what the kids say these days. Lit? Do they still say lit? It was lit. (RIP Lit, TOD: 3/17/23, 3:11 PM.) All I know is that I was impressed, and I remained impressed every time Walks started dancing again. Adding layers like that to a character makes the theatre and acting so cool. 

The intimacy staging and consulting work Gregory Geffrard is respectful well-implement. There aren’t any sex scenes in K-I-S-S-I-N-G, but there are difficult, mature discussions and lots of kissing. It is good and wise that Geffrard was onhand to lead those discussions to ensure the emotional safety of the cast and crew of this production. What is easy for one person can be painful for another. We don’t have to understand someone to love them platonically. 

Sharmarke Yusuf and Regan Sims; Photo: T Charles Erickson. Look at how pretty! Projection work by Yee Eun Nam and Hannah Tran.

The projection work by Yee Eun Nam and Hannah Tran is exquisite. Their work put us in the MFA, up the branches of a tree, and on the dance floor of a high school prom. They even sweetly manipulated a Klimt to give it Lala’s face. No elaborate, thousands of dollars’ worth of rotating, motorized set pieces necessary (shade intended). Nam and Tran show us what it is to use a projection designer’s full set of skills.

David Bowie is my higher power. I was called by David Bowie, the gender bending fashion icon and glam rock god, around the same age I realized I was queer. I was watching Labyrinth for the upteenth time and had a rather vigorous epiphany on my father’s brown, tattered armchair. What I didn’t know then was that I was using Bowie and Labyrinth as a way to hide from familial trauma and bullying. 

Decades of devotees have confided in recordings of David Bowie’s music, movies, and other projects. He is a beacon for anyone who draws outside the lines of normalcy. He still is and hopefully always will be.

I wished the Goblin King would come and take me away. I wanted the cape, the magic, the iridescent crystal ball of dreams and wishes to waltz my life into a dream. I needed a fantasy soundtrack to croon out the side of my mouth as I sidestepped emotional danger playacting as reality. 

It is entirely relatable that characters Lala and Dani bond over their love of “Young Americans” in a city park. It’s a great track, and a funk-tastic album. Bowie’s rendition of “Across the Universe” is mind blowing. 

The A in LGBTQIA+ is for Asexual. The Human Rights Campaign says it “refers to a complete or partial lack of sexual attraction or lack of interest in sexual activity with others.” The Asexual or Ace community faces stigma just like their queer cousins. Same bigotry, different flavor. 

Dani is asexual. As much as K-I-S-S-I-N-G is about Lala finding herself in a world that rejects her traumas, this play is about Dani discovering that he can be loved and appreciated just as he is too.

New England Aces were consulted on this play. That’s almost as good as casting an asexual actor. It is imperative to incorporate the voices of minority community members into works about those communities and that includes this play. NEA’s work lends K-I-S-S-I-N-G cultural legitimacy and the character of Dani a palpable believability.  

Playwright Moïse and director Simmons give Lala/Sims and Dani/Yusuf proverbial and stage space to explore and craft their personas. Sims and Yusuf are playful and goofy. They look like they are having fun, dorking out over art and poetry. The entire cast does – when we are meant to understand that fun is being had. And, dammit, these characters need joy because their world (which is so similar to ours) robs them of it every moment it can. 

There are some impressive mental gymnastics occuring in US politics right now. If these inhumane humans truly want to discontinue the existence of LGBTQIA+ people, they’ll have to stop gestating babies and adopt instead. There are plenty of children in the adoption and foster care systems that need joyless white homes. 

These laws aren’t to save children; these laws are to hurt non-straight people. Same bigotry, different flavor.

Regan Sims and Ivan Cecil Walks; Photo: T Charles Erickson.

It confounds me that conservative, straight, cis, allosexual, white humans seek to harm and destroy that which is different merely because it is different. Asexual, trans and other queer people won’t cease to exist because a few unenforceable laws get passed. States will pass laws to hurt the minority, and people will die. 

What and how we manipulate the contents of our underpants is no one’s business. In fact, it’s so deeply no one’s business that many laws codified by the US Supreme Court are based on privacy. The US has absolutely no business knowing what goes on between a doctor and a patient (RIP Roe v. Wade), or married couples (Loving v. Virginia, Obergefell v. Hodges). 

Asexuality is as valid as any other identity. Dani has just as much right to not do what he wants with his genitals as Lala and Albert have to do with theirs. You don’t have to understand someone to platonically love them. To quote my patron saint Dorothy Parker, “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.” 

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