Images on the television screen. No sound. We’re in a living room in Damascus in 2014. Four people gather to watch their favorite soap opera. (Syrians love telenovelas.) The two couples are in romantic relationships, which may be unraveling. As the story proceeds, you realize they are the characters in the soap opera, performing in over-the-top soap-opera-ish acting styles.
This is Kiss by Guillermo Calderón, directed by Monty Cole and staged by Haven at the Den Theatre. It’s a bit meta as it addresses the Syrian civil war through theater.
Kiss is performed in several acts and has so many spoilers I can tell you very little about the story. The soap opera act is pop culture entertainment and the opening night audience was very responsive. Then the play changes mood and makes us conscious of the wartime atmosphere in Damascus, inspired by the 2013 chemical weapons attack. One of the characters says, “the play is not about the characters themselves but about the audience who gathers around to see it and feel for a few minutes something else, something that is not war. But the war is hard and we all have become skeptics when it comes to love… And also… during war love becomes more intense.”
The 90-minute production moves along briskly and Cole does a good job of fitting the pieces together, as well as plaSalarying one of the leading roles. Scenic design is by William Boles, lighting by Claire Chrzan and costumes by Kotryna Hilko. Jeffrey Levin handles sound design and original music. Projections are by Liviu Pasare.
Cole and Salar Ardebili perform very well as Ahmed and Youssif and the actor who plays Hadeel is excellent and full of dramatic energy. Unfortunately, the Haven program doesn’t include headshots or identify characters by name, so I don’t know which of the female actors to praise for their performances as Hadeel or Bana. (Two more actors that are not identified—a man and a woman—perform in another section of the play.)
Calderón is a screenwriter, playwright and theater director born in Chile and based in the U.S. His films Violeta Went to Heaven, The Club and Neruda won film festival and other awards. Calderón wrote Kiss on a commission at the Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus.
Kiss by Haven continues at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., through August 18. Tickets are $35 for performances Thursday-Sunday.