Life Imitates Art In Academy’s ‘Stage Kiss’

by Jennifer Sexton-Riley
Eli Woods as He and Missy Potash as She in a rehearsal for the Academy of Performing Arts production of “Stage Kiss.”
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What happens when two actors with a shared past are cast together as romantic leads? What happens when lovers share a stage kiss — or when actors share a real one?

Art imitates life, life imitates art and sparks fly in Sarah Ruhl’s “Stage Kiss,” on the Academy Playhouse stage Feb. 8 through 25.

Filled with warmth, humor, and energized by the emotional antics — scripted and otherwise — of actors at work, “Stage Kiss” is a must-see, particularly for those who love the world of theater and all that goes on behind the scenes.

Director Rachel Hischak describes “Stage Kiss” as modern and slightly surrealist. “Sarah Ruhl is known for writing plays that are relatable and approachable, but then suddenly bend reality or introduce an element of absurdity,” Hischak said. “I love that her style heightens subtle and ambivalent dramatic questions.”

Twelve years ago when she first moved to Cape Cod, Hischak discovered the Academy Playhouse when perusing upcoming auditions.

“I saw they were doing ‘Young Frankenstein,’” Hischak said. “I was delighted to land the role of Inga in that show, as someone that was unknown to the theater community. I loved the experience I had there, and I've returned many times as an actor.”

Hischak said she has directed a few times before “Stage Kiss,” primarily one acts and 10-minute plays.

“I did have a really wonderful opportunity to direct for The Working Theater in Manhattan with equity actors,” Hischak said. “It was a special ‘director's salon’ where names were randomly selected from a hat to direct various scenes from ‘Waiting For Lefty.’”

“Stage Kiss” was not a play Hischak formally proposed to direct, so it was a pleasant surprise when Academy Artistic Director Judy Hamer invited her to direct it. Hischak admitted there were times during the process when she felt overwhelmed and lamented all there was to do, but now that cast and crew are putting the play on its feet and seeing it all come together as she imagined it, she is really enjoying herself.

“It feels like I know what I'm doing, which may be due to my 30 years of experience in theater, but also the fact that this play is mainly set in the world of a rehearsal space,” Hischak said. “I'm able to find ways to bring out the idiosyncrasies that make that world feel real to an audience.”

Obsessed with theater since the age of 5 and introduced to community theater musicals through her family, Hischak graduated from high school knowing she wanted to study to be an actor. After college and conservatory training with Circle in the Square in New York, Hischak moved on to study improv comedy and musical improv with Upright Citizens Brigade and Improv Boston.

“I've had a handful of interesting professional credits in theater and film, but the majority of my experience remains in fringe and community theater,” Hischak said. “I'm always looking for what seems most exciting artistically. I don't very much care whether that is something that pays or not. I would say that tends to be true for a lot of theater makers. We just want to experience that play and put it in front of an audience and hopefully evoke some thought and emotional response.”

Hischak said she is excited to see how the Academy of Performing Arts has become such a hub for all kinds of new work and youthful energy. This year she started a new club at the theater called STUD (Scenes to Understand Drama), where actors can meet every other week to work on any scenes they like with partners.

“It is not a formal class, but just a place to work consistently and provide a little feedback to each other,” Hischak said. “We have showcases planned at APA in May and October. It's a great outlet for anyone that wants more acting experience, especially since most theaters tend to focus on musicals for their seasons.”

Hischak said “Stage Kiss” is a rare chance to experience something slightly more modern and immediate than most of the work being produced on the Cape. It’s a style of writing and acting that is hyper-realistic and sweetly specific.

“I think it's particularly nice to experience this play in an arena space like Academy Playhouse, because that nuance of style can be easily felt in such close proximity to the action. It is also worth mentioning that this play is ideal for mature audiences 16 and over, with some sexually suggestive content and profanity. While there is no nudity or sexual situations depicted, there is a great deal of kissing.”

“Stage Kiss” features Missy Potash as She, Eli Woods as He, Dan Rabold as Husband/Harrison, Susanna Creel as Millie/Angela, DJ Kostka as Kevin, Emma Engelsen as Millicent/Laurie, Fred Carpenter as Director, and Ann Carpenter as Stage Manager. The play is directed by Rachel Hischak, with props and stage management by Ann Carpenter, lights and sound by Jennifer Kangas, music composition and accompaniment by Eli Woods, and set design and construction by Mark Roderick. The crew are Rachel Hischak, Will Oxtoby and Ann Carpenter, and costumes are by Rachel Hischak and Susanna Creel.

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