"Prelude to a Kiss" is a not-so-old-fashioned love story: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, marry within a few weeks — and then her soul changes places with that of an elderly man.
But "Prelude to a Kiss" is more than that: The conceit of the soul swapping is that it examines how we love — are we attracted to the shell or the core? — and makes us think about our fears of aging or maturing. It also raises the question: Do we really know the people we love?
With its fantastical story and a moral about the nature of love, "Prelude to a Kiss" could have a fable-like quality. In Theatre Downtown's production, however, director Frank Hilgenberg takes a more ordinary approach to the story. And while that might emphasize the universal truth that every Jack and Jill share these fears, it also flattens the emotional highs and lows essential to any good fairy tale.
The epic romance that withstands magical tribulations, the horror of discovering the tragic swap, the joy at learning the meaning of true love: All are curiously dampened in this telling of the tale.
At a party, affable Peter (John Reid Adams) meets Rita (Sarah Lockard), a Dewers-drinking Communist, or Socialist — he can never quite remember — but it doesn't matter: Peter is smitten. And so is the passionate Rita. After their wedding, a mysterious old man (Bill Horine) kisses the bride, and on the honeymoon, Peter begins to realize that his new wife looks like Rita and sounds like Rita — but is not the person with whom he fell in love.
Adams, as Peter, is plenty likable and has an engaging manner with the audience when he addresses it directly as the story's narrator. But he doesn't convey the depths of horror one would expect after realizing his wife's body is occupied by someone else's soul.
Horine's old man has some cute physicality when Rita's soul is in his body as Horine demurely crosses his legs or walks with a little skip in his step. His vocal delivery, though, doesn't match the patter of quick-witted Rita.
As Rita, Rickard shines, full of joie de vivre. After the transformation, her voice becomes just a bit more rough, her gracefulness a bit more clunky.
Among the supporting cast, Cira Larkin is pitch perfect as Rita's mother — all overdone laughter when meeting her daughter's new beau in a very funny scene, then earthy matchmaker when the couple hits a trouble spot. She delivers one of the play's key messages: People change, situations change, bodies change. As she puts it: "That's life."
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•What: 'Prelude to a Kiss'
•Length: 2 hours, including intermission
•When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 27.
•Where: Theatre Downtown, 2113 N. Orange Ave., Orlando
•Cost: $20; $16 students and seniors
•Call: 407-841-0083Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times