Guild’s latest play not a simple kiss

Directing Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss taught Clinton Walker to "not be such a jerk" when it comes to his views on romance. Playing the lead female role made Charlotte Courage realize her many feminine mannerisms.

Directing Craig Lucas’s Prelude to a Kiss taught Clinton Walker to “not be such a jerk” when it comes to his views on romance.

Playing the lead female role made Charlotte Courage realize her many feminine mannerisms. And for Lee Malanchuk, securing the main male role showed him he could act. His last thespian activity came in Grade 1, when he played a garbage can, an Oscar the Grouch-type character, he said.

But both actors and the director agreed on one point: this play was a lot more work than they anticipated.

There was only a month between auditions and the preview, and the play demands a lot of time.

Prelude to a Kiss follows the romance of Peter and Rita. Peter is a man “searching for something,” said Walker. This intellectual optimist falls in love with Rita, a cynical world-weary woman in her 30s, and she, in the director’s words, “somewhat with him.”

On their wedding day, an old man kisses Rita, and in doing so he and the bride exchange souls.

The 1988 play hit the silver screen in 1992. The film version stars Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin.

For both of the lead actors, this was their first time with the company.

Malanchuk admits he was fairly excited when he found out he’d secured the role. But a moment later he was wondering what exactly he’d gotten himself into, he said.

Courage had the difficult task of playing two characters: Rita, and then the soul of the old man living inside of her. “This is definitely the most intense show I’ve ever been in,” she said.

Roy Ness plays the old man. He and Courage spent time studying each other’s behaviours. Courage had to learn how to hold her hands, how to sit like a man. “But it’s more than just taking on the mannerisms,” she said. “It’s adopting another character within a character.”

“In regards to the switch, it’s more about humanity than it is about gender,” explains Walker.

He is no stranger to Whitehorse’s community theatre scene. This is the fourth play he’s directed for The Guild. The Toronto-based director and actor first worked with the company in 2010 when he directed The Laramie Project. Later that year, he followed that with The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Last season, he directed 39 Steps.

And he was confident his leads could handle their roles.

He knew Malanchuk was Lee “right away,” because he has “no filter with his emotions,” said Walker. Since Peter spends much of the play telling the audience about his emotions, that was crucial.

And Walker knew Courage had the desire to play and the acting ability required.

While the film version – which Walker hasn’t watched in its entirety – is full of cuteness, the play addresses more serious concerns, he said.

“You know, Prelude has always been stamped as a romantic comedy,” said Walker, who admits he had not heard of the play until he was asked to direct it for the Guild. “And I never came into it thinking, ‘Ah, this is going to be a walk in the park.’ … When we came in and when we started investigating these moments, and how human and how interestingly complicated they were, it has been a challenge, but a delightful challenge. It was like, ‘Wow.’ I think all three of us have been put through our paces. And that’s good.”

The play has been widely read as a fable for the AIDS crisis, and Lucas has said the disease inspired the play, said Walker. But while AIDS is still relevant, society’s interaction with it has evolved as treatments have developed, he said. Instead, his production focuses more on how people change over time. Even the set reinforces the theme. Panels of white fabric represent love’s transparency, he said.

“When we get married, when we partner off, our partners do change before our eyes in ways that is sometimes fantastic, and in some ways it’s really challenging,” he said.

But as Walker said about preparing the play, “Anything good should be an effort, right?”

Prelude to a Kiss runs Wednesdays through Saturdays from Nov. 22 to Dec. 8. There is a $5 preview tonight. Tickets for the Wednesday and Thursday shows cost $20. Friday and Saturday performances cost $22. The Nov. 28 show is pay what you can. All performances begin at 8 p.m.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at