Phoenicia’s STS Playhouse presents Prelude to a Kiss

Matthew Santiago and Tori McCarthy rehearsing Prelude to a Kiss.

“One of the themes of this play is discovering who you’ve married,” said Michael Koegel, director of the forthcoming STS Playhouse production. “I got married six months ago, and I didn’t expect surprises. How well do you know the person you’re married to?”

Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas will run three weekends, May 5 through May 21, at the venerable theater at 10 Church Street in Phoenicia. The play had a run on Broadway, received a Tony nomination, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1991. The film version starred Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan.

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The story revolves around a couple who marry after a six-week courtship. At their wedding, attended by a mysterious old man, a supernatural event occurs that tests the young couple’s love and commitment to each other.

“There’s also a layer that has to do with gender identity,” observed Koegel. “When the play was written, AIDS was on everyone’s mind, and the play, written by a gay man, was seen to deal with the AIDS epidemic. Now there’s the notion of gender politics. Three years ago you didn’t hear the word ‘transgender’ in cocktail conversations, and now it’s the gay rights movement of this decade.”

Starring as Rita is Tori McCarthy, who has brought her versatile talent to numerous STS shows, including Grease, Dracula, Sylvia, and The Robber Bridegroom. She has also directed Oklahoma!, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Little Shop of Horrors for STS, as well as the recent Les Misérables at Onteora High School. Peter is played by newcomer Matthew Santiago from Stone Ridge, providing acting talent plus visual allure. “One-third of the first act is performed by Tori and Matthew in bathing suits,” said Koegel, “and he’s a body builder and personal trainer.” Farrell Reynolds, who appeared in Proof at STS in 2015, plays the Old Man. Supporting cast members are Carl Anderson, Klaus Buchele, Daniela Goldberg, Amy Knoth, Helene Matera, John Remington, and Elaine Young. Although the play does not involve singing, Young is notable for having sung in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera for 20 years.

Among the challenges for the actor playing Peter is that his role includes narrating the story, so Santiago is onstage for the whole show and even changes costumes onstage. From a directorial perspective, Koegel has to deal with the magical realism of the play, which goes from scene to scene with no set changes. “It’s impossible to do the show in the traditional way,” he said. “Things happen too quickly. We go from a party to a bar to a street to a stoop to an apartment within 10 minutes. And the dialogue never stops. The show is not about the sets and costumes. It’s all about the acting.”

Koegel, who also serves as the theater’s artistic director, wants the public to know that STS is always on the lookout for volunteers who are interested in acting, set design, lighting, ticket selling, or the myriad other tasks involved in putting together a production.

STS Playhouse presents Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas, May 5-May 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., at the STS Playhouse theater, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for students, seniors and STS members. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made through the STS box office at (845) 688-2279. Tickets can also be bought at the box office or online at http://www.stsplayhouse.com.