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De Kus/The Kiss
by Ger Thijs
Translated by Paul Evans
Directed by Kenn McLaughlin
Upstream Theater
October 9, 2015

Eric Dean White, Lisa Tejero Photo by Peter Wochniak Upstream Theater

Eric Dean White, Lisa Tejero
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Upstream Theater

It’s autumn in St. Louis. The leaves are changing color and falling from the trees, the days are getting shorter, and there’s a chill in the air. At Upstream Theater, it’s autumn in the Netherlands, as the company presents the atmospheric, philosophical Dutch play that has a lot to say about seasons of life. Staged with the excellence for which Upstream is known, De Kus/The Kiss is a bittersweet, intense play that lets the audience get to know two fascinating characters by showing us their compelling interactions.

The set, designed by Michael Heil with scenic art by Christie Johnston pulls the audience into the setting immediately. The park bench, thin tree trunks, park bench and sign post set up in such an intimate theatrical setting creates an immersive experience for the viewer, who is put right into the action and the season. The wooden platform on which the players perform is decorated with engravings representing the Catholic tradition of the Stations of the Cross, which helps to set the tone of the play. This is a pilgrimage, albeit a very private one, as a woman (Lisa Tejero) takes a journey through a wooded area to a nearby town so she can receive the potential scary results of some recent medical tests. Along the way, she encounters a man (Eric Dean White) with a somewhat mysterious story of his own. Through the course of the play, we learn more about these two disparate characters as they interact, alternately challenging, comforting, entertaining, and disturbing one another as they journey to their intended destination.

There’s no definitive conclusion to this play, and there’s really not much plot. It’s mostly about character study and the various concepts that are brought up–mortality, marriage and family, mid-life reflections and recriminations, and recurring themes of pilgrimage, penance, suffering and redemption.  The effectiveness of the story depends on the characters and their portrayal, and this production is ideally cast. White, as the more outgoing, snarky, and witty character, is full of charm as well as a necessary air of mystery. Tejero, as the more obviously reserved woman, goes through a convincing emotional journey, as she opens up gradually and reveals more about her life, hopes, regrets, and fears. The interplay and chemistry between these two performers is fascinating and entirely believable, as their relationship develops from initial distrust, to a sense of camaraderie, to more suspicion, to flirtation, and more. This is a small play in terms of focus, but big in terms of concepts, and the performers do an admirable job of personalizing the story and making the audience care about their characters.

Aside from the wonderful set, the other technical aspects of the play are equally excellent. The sound, by Philip Boehm and Michael B. Perkins, and Tony Anselmo’s atmospheric lighting all add to the overall drama of this impeccably staged production. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are also ideally suited to the characters, contributing to the overall realism of the piece.

The Kiss is a contemplative, challenging, and poetic play. It’s an excellent October play, with changes of seasons both literal and metaphorical, a key theme. It’s a pilgrimage for these characters, and they take the audience along on their journey of discovery. It’s a play that’s at once personal and conceptual, brought to life by two remarkable performances. It’s well worth seeing.

Lisa Tejero, Eric Dean White Photo by Peter Wochniak Uptream Theater

Lisa Tejero, Eric Dean White
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Uptream Theater

 De Kus/The Kiss, presented by Upstream Theater, runs at the Kranzberg Arts Center until October 25, 2015

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