United Press International, March 29, 1990

"Prelude to a Kiss is Off-Broadway Gold"
by Gloria Cole

Romance is in the air, according to trend spotters, and it's not just the seasonal variety that comes with spring.

A return to romance is reflected in the Nielsen ratings and at movie box offices. It's a trend that's evident in the theater, most notably in Craig Lucas' new comedy, "Prelude to a Kiss," currently being staged by the Circle Repertory Company.

"Prelude to a Kiss," titled after an Ella Fitzgerald song, has caught on with theater goers to such an extent that it will be moved to Broadway in late April with Timothy Hutton taking over the role of Peter, now being played by Alec Baldwin, one of Hollywood's hottest properties.

Baldwin, co-starred with Sean Connery in the current film, "The Hunt for Red October," must leave the cast next month because of film commitments.

He plays opposite Mary-Louise Parker as Rita, his bride, and Circle Rep veteran and Tony Award-winner Barnard Hughes takes the role of Old Man, whose body Rita occupies in the kinkiest twist of this adult fairy tale.

What could be more romantic than the notion that Peter could love Rita even though she is disguised in the persona of someone else?

Peter and Rita meet at a Manhattan party, exchange non-sequiturs, and drift off, smitten. When they meet again they are quickly into bed and commitment, in that order, to the background music of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You."

Next thing you know, Peter is asking Rita to marry him. She replies, "Uh huh," and they're off to meet her parents. As Peter is dressing for the wedding, Rita asked him "What about when I'm 100 years old, no teeth, bald, sagging down to here?"

"I'll still love you," he says, little dreaming that he's soon going to have to prove if.

At the wedding reception, Old Man appears, stands in with the wedding picture, congratulates the family and kisses the bride. Nobody can quite account for who he is. It is during his honeymoon in Jamaica that Peter begins to suspect that something incredible has happened to his bride, whose habits, attitudes and even memories seem to have changed completely.

It is when he runs into Old Man at the bar where Rita used to work that Peter discovers the fantastic truth: his bride is inhabiting the wrinkled, sagging, overweight male body he sees before him. And what's even more fantastic, he still loves her.

It is the skill of playwright Lucas ("Missing Persons," "Reckless," "Blue Window") at building this fantasy and the artistry of Hughes as the old man and Baldwin as Peter that makes it possible to go along with this preposterous character switch.

When Old Man, as Rita, refers to his own soul inhabiting her body and says, "He wants to be me; who wouldn't," we can all understand.

And when Peter says to Rita-Old Man, "I miss your face," and she answers, "I do too," the playwright seems to be saying, "But that's only one part of you."

Loy Arcenas' simple abstract set of sculptured walls and an aquarium-like window allows for easy movement of scenes from apartment to bar to beach to Rita's parents' suburban home.

All the cast is excellent. In addition to lovely performances by Hughes and Baldwin, there is an appealing one by Parker as the slightly neurotic, very contemporary Rita. Outstanding are Debra Monk as Rita's anxious mother, Larry Bryggman as her cool, with-it father, and Joyce Reehling in the dual roles of an aunt and Old Man's daughter.

This is a wry, provocative tale that makes you laugh while you're watching it and smile just thinking about it in retrospect.

Copyright 1990 U.P.I.