Guillermo Calderón’s Kiss examines the cultural understandings we try to interpret on stage

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Johanna Austin

We all know how over-the-top the story telling and acting can be in soap operas. The plots are exaggerated and sometimes even hard to follow with rules that could never apply to other television series. So, when you enter the Wilma Theatre and begin to see Kiss unfold on stage, you assume you’re witnessing the drama and absurdity of a run-of-the-mill soap, stretched to unbelievable limits even more so for the stage. Two couples (Wilma HotHouse Company members Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Sarah Gliko, Justin Jain, and Taysha Marie Canales) meet for a night in to watch their favorite television show together. For soapy goodness, there’s an unexpected marriage proposal, a love triangle or two, and a lot of flailing around. Funny!

Until, in true Wilma fashion, the rug is pulled out from under you and you realize what Kiss truly is about. It’s hard to say more without giving away the plot. We learn that the four actors we just met are actually performing a Syrian soap opera for us. They found it on the internet, but couldn’t track down the playwright because of the war in Syria. Like so many other families, she had to flee her country.

Do these four actors, who produce the play anyway without the playwright’s guidance, really represent the themes and culture of the story correctly? What happens when they finally realize the meaning behind the script and how incredibly off their understanding is? The twist in Kiss is nowhere near as unreal as the ones that soap operas are known for; instead it’s actually a reality we all need to hear. The Wilma Theatre constantly reminds us of a world outside of the theatre, outside of Philadelphia, and what we can do to examine our surroundings correctly.

Kiss also stars Wilma HotHouse Company members Steven Rishard and Lois Abdelmalek. Saying this is a “must-see” is obvious. When the 2022-2023 Wilma season was announced, Lead Co-Artistic Director Morgan Green said:

“…The theater we’re producing this season asks probing questions of theater itself: Whose stories can we tell and for whom? What is the nature of laughter and how does it heal? How can we leave a place better than we found it?”

Kiss reminds us to dig deeper. The post-show resources ask audiences – what is the role of an international community in a local uprising or contest over power? What role can artists hope to play in the building of meaningful cross-cultural, transnational solidarity? How can we advocate for and against intervention in the Middle East and beyond? After you see the show, visit the resources here to learn more.

Kiss is written by Guillermo Calderón and directed by Syrian-born University of the Arts professor Fadi Skeiker, making his Wilma debut. For tickets and info- the show runs through February 19th- visit the Wilma website.

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