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Bold, original, complex, and contemporary
Wilma Theater presents Guillermo Calderón’s Kiss
Guillermo Calderón’s Kiss, now onstage at the Wilma, opens on four Western theater artists staging a Syrian soap opera of the same name. This exciting work has a play-within-a-play format with a shocking twist. Kiss showcases the finest aspects of the Wilma: bold, original, complex, and contemporary theater. It’s my favorite of all the productions I’ve seen here so far.
Kiss has many threads to pull. Does it comment on imperialism and its impact on other countries and other people’s lives, while many Westerners sit in their bubble of ignorance and safety? Or the extent to which artists can make art about things beyond their lived experience? Is it a commentary on cross-cultural misunderstanding, which can reach comical depths in theater and the arts? Does it emphasize how we, as a society, are herded from one crisis to the next through the 24-hour news cycle? Or does it show how often groups of people are made invisible, dehumanized, and forgotten? Is it a commentary on how many people outside Syria have completely moved on from the Syrian war, despite the ongoing crisis? I think it is all of these things and more.
Nuance, depth, and beauty
Director Fadi Skeiker, an associate professor at University of the Arts, draws on his experience as a Syrian immigrant, and on his work in applied drama and drama therapy to help Syrian refugees. He’s an activist as well as an artist who works to uplift the voices of marginalized populations. This is the first time Kiss (by a Chilean playwright) has had a Syrian director.
His cast and creative team have strong Middle Eastern representation, including Arabic-fluent actor Lois Abdelmalek (Woman) and dramaturg Rayya El Zein, which is vital in creating the nuance, depth, and beauty of this production. This speaks to Skeiker’s belief in the importance of letting people tell their own stories. His choice to bring Woman physically onstage, instead of speaking through a video-call projection only, was a bold and powerful one. He forces the audience to see her as a person whose voice deserves to be heard, who deserves to be seen.
In the first act, the fantastic cast gets plenty of laughs with campy, cartoonish acting. Justin Jain brims with enthusiasm, optimism, and lovable energy as Ahmed; you can almost see hearts in his eyes in one scene and steam coming out of his ears in another. Taysha Marie Canales (Hadeel), who jumps for joy in sync with Jain, plays the conflicted woman at the heart of a love triangle with bravado, spice, and all the over-the-top drama of the hilarious first act. Sara Gliko brings her own outrageous physicality to the role of Bana. Anthony Martinez-Briggs plays a lovesick Youssif with aplomb. Abdelmalek brings a no-nonsense attitude to the Woman, and her fluency in Arabic is an important touch. Her song toward the end of the play is also powerful and moving.
Hilarious and provocative
Lifelike projections by Alan Price are integrated seamlessly with lights by Reza Behjat and sound by Damien Figueras. The groundbreaking projections (all cued in real time to be in sync with the actors) transport the audience in the closing scene, and will haunt your dreams (in a good way). Set designer Jian Jung provides stunning visuals, as well.
I would recommend this hilarious, gut-wrenching, and provocative production of Kiss to everyone. I left the theater with a sense of hope and a desire to do better as an ally and co-conspirator. I also hope the Philly theater scene grows in showcasing more BIPOC, immigrant, queer, or otherwise marginalized playwrights and creators—chances for these folks to tell their own stories have been my most interesting and exciting experiences on our theatrical scene.
What, When, Where
Kiss. By Guillermo Calderón, directed by Fadi Skeiker. $29-$49. Through February 19, 2023, at Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 546-7824 or wilmatheater.org.
Masks are required inside the theater. Covid-19 vaccination is highly recommended, but not required.
The Wilma is a wheelchair-accessible venue. There will be an open-captioned and audio-described performance on Saturday, February 18, at 8pm and Sunday, February 19, at 2pm.
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