There's something delightfully meta about Sarah Ruhl's comedy Stage Kiss, playing at Off Broadway's Playwrights Horizons through March 23 following its 2011 premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theater. The show features not one but two plays-within-a-play, both boasting an outrageously incompetent director (Patrick Kerr) and two fortysomething stars who were once each other's first loves.
The wonderfully deadpan Jessica Hecht plays the actress (named only She), a solipsistic leading lady who re-kindles her romance with He (the hunky Dominic Fumusa) in a way that parallels sometimes too closely the plot of the intentionally bad, fictional 1930s drama in which they've been cast. This results in some goofy sendups of theatrical convention, aided by standout supporting turns by Daniel Jenkins as the actress' all-too-knowing husband and Michael Cyril Creighton as the decidedly fey understudy who at one point steps in for the lead actor with disastrous results. (''He makes this face this weird face like he’s going to eat me before he kisses me like a placoderm,'' She says. ''You know, one of those jawless prehistoric fish with teeth?”)
Stage Kiss loses some momentum in the second act, when our renewed lovers are cast in a Detroit production of a noirish thriller about a near-sighted Brooklyn prostitute and a gun-runner for the IRA. As directed by Rebecca Taichman, the comic climax doesn't quite hit the heights of hilarity we've been led to expect, and the twisty denouement lands with more of a whimper than a bang. Still, Stage Kiss is satisfyingly clever enough to be worth a buss stop. B+