In 1950, legendary French artist/photographer Robert Doisneau snapped a photo of a young couple spontaneously enveloped in a passionate kiss on a crowded Paris street across from City Hall. Over the years that photo, “The Kiss at City Hall,” has become one of the most famous candid snaps of the 20th century. In 1993, the photo also became the impetus for Joe Dipietro’s five-character comedy when he read that a man and a woman had taken the aged Doisneau to court, claiming they were the couple in the photograph and that Doisneau had posed them. They were suing for residuals. Whatever Dipietro’s inspiration, the resulting stage work is long on hip, contemporary interaction but woefully lacking in content and plot development.
Set in modern-day Manhattan, Dipietro chronicles the romantic misadventures of two catatonically immature almost-30-year-old roommates, successful furniture-maker Tony (Brian Cousins) and handsome commercial actor Dave (Paul Provenza). Both are romantically involved with bright, beautiful women who want more than the boys are willing to give. After four years of mutually enjoyable hanky panky, advertising exec Julie (Robin Riker) has decided that Tony should marry her. Dave’s newly-developing relationship with schoolteacher Phoenix (Sybyl Walker) takes an unexpected turn when she becomes pregnant and demands a commitment from Dave.
Director Joel Bishoff adroitly guides his facile ensemble through, up and around Richard Hoover’s gorgeous loft apartment setting, spewing a plethora of clever social and erotic witticisms that constantly sound more like mini-speeches than true conversation. By play’s end, the decisions, justifications and rationalizations that bring one couple together and drive the other apart are totally arbitrary and unconvincing. One can only wonder why these two worthy females were attracted to the two jerks in the first place.
The most successful portrayal is turned in by Riker, whose Julie also serves as a kind of in-character narrator. Riker’s Julie exudes an attractive blend of social sophistication and romantic naivete as she draws a parallel between the Doisneau case and her relationship with Tony. Is it real? Is it a pose? Does it really matter? To her credit, Riker gives authenticity to an otherwise implausible resolution.
Walker strives mightily to make sense out of an extremely difficult character. Phoenix is a woman in need who is never able to adequately get through to her lover, Dave. The playwright weighs Phoenix down with myriad life-changing but often arbitrary decisions and leaves it up to the actress to make sense of it all. For the most part, Walker rises to the occasion quite nicely.
Cousins’ Tony certainly projects the proper ambivalence of a happy bachelor who is suddenly asked to change the direction of his life, but seldom appears comfortable with Dipietro’s dialogue. The comedically adept Provenza doesn’t bother with subtlety of interpretation or shades of meaning. His Dave simply charges through the play with a seldom varying high level of frenzy and angst.
Magda Harout’s sensitive portrayal of the non-English-speaking cleaning lady, Mrs. Valentini, provides one of the few affecting moments in the work, when she communicates to Tony the true meaning of love and commitment.