Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
First appearing on Broadway in 1943, Kiss and Tell, starring actress Joan Caulfield as ingénue Corliss Archer, was a relative success, running for over 900 performances in two venues. After being discovered by Broadway producers in 1943, Caulfield’s stage career took off, which eventually led to signing as an actress with Paramount Pictures. Shortly after the Broadway production closed in 1945, a film version was released by Columbia Pictures starring Shirley Temple. The film also sparked a sequel, A Kiss for Corliss in 1949.
Kiss and Tell is set in America 1943, in the midst of World War II, when sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands were off at war. The large cast includes two families and assorted neighbors and friends representing the idealistic view of an American family in the 1940’s. In the midst of such a serious time comes an assortment of humorous and eccentric characters, confusing situations, and quick paced story, the perfect elements to any well-written comedy.
Set Designer JaceSon Barrus nicely transformed Plaza Theatre’s in the round space into the back porch of the Archer home. I was impressed with his attention to detail, using period issues of The Saturday Evening Post to dress the set while also creating a very open atmosphere on stage. I was also impressed with Barrus’ overall vision and design. One of the gems was the use of vintage style posters dressing the walls around the perimeter of the theater. These posters promoted purchasing war bonds or Rosie the Riveter and really set the atmosphere quite nicely. They were reminiscent of tin signs that were popular advertisements from the 1940’s. I loved how something so simple could really draw the audience into the play. There were several playing areas that provided effective stage pictures of a simplistic life when families gathered on the porch after supper, read the newspaper and listened to the radio. It was an excellent way to transform the remaining space into the time period.
Lighting, also designed by Barrus (he certainly has a multitude of talents!), executed his vision of the set design and was also impressive. There are few things a lighting designer can implement in such a straightforward play to represent day and night. However, I felt the mood was established and consistent throughout the course of the play. The only drawback was the long, darkened scene transitions. At times I felt they slowed down the pacing, especially when the comic situations and pace of the story had taken flight, and when the audience was on the edge of their seats ready to see what was happening next.
Assisting the lighting and set, Barrus also carried through with his selection of music throughout the play. I especially appreciated his vast selection of songs. I believe music can make or break a play, allowing the audience to experience the setting, mood and theme of a production. It was nice to hear early Sinatra’s “I’ll Never Smile Again”, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, and the quintessential sounds of The Andrews Sisters. It was also nice to hear vintage radio broadcasts of the Gene Krupa Orchestra, advertisements, and the recognizable three note radio jingle of the National Broadcasting Company playing on the radio during the preshow and intermission. It was nice to see something as simple as music make such a lasting impression on audiences when often it’s an afterthought in other productions. As an audiophile, I was greatly satisfied by the library of songs Barrus chose to take audiences back to 1943. As for sound, the actors overcame some issues with the mics early on and were able to adapt quickly to some apparent audio issues.
Benjamin Midkiff designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The 1940’s was such a fun time for fashion. Men and women alike dressed more formally, even when merely gathered on the back porch. The hats and gloves, eye glasses and period hairstyles, all added authenticity to the roles. Each costume was visually appealing and certainly complimented the characters portrayed.
Emma Colwell was very remarkable in the role of Corliss Archer. Through facial expressions, voice, and a youthful appearance, Colwell convincingly portrayed the fifteen-year-old school girl who longed to wear rouge, perfume and go on dates with her on again, off again teenage neighbor, Dexter Franklin. For me, Miss Colwell was the epitome of 1940’s adolescence - naive, wide-eyed, and innocent. Corliss longed to be seen as someone older than fifteen, and Colwell played her with seeming maturity, making her humorous situations with her family and friends enjoyable to watch. I also enjoyed the character’s use of word play in the story, Colwell often mispronouncing words and confusing words as an inexperienced child often would.
Another standout performance was Jay Lewis’ in the role of Mr. Archer. Mr. Lewis was convincing as the patriarch of the Archer family, with earnest chemistry between Mr. Archer and his daughter, and between him and his wife. Not only did Lewis come across as the quintessential caring father figure, but also provided quite a bit of the comedy to many situations and scenes.
Overall, the ensemble displayed some excellent chemistry together. Director Barrus’ cast worked well together, both the veteran and newer actors. It was enjoyable to see such talented actors, and was among the best I have seen in a production of this size, as it can be difficult to have a tight ensemble with a large cast. I feel every actor brought an element of importance to his or her character. I enjoyed the facial expressions and line delivery of Cameron Barrus in the role of Dexter Franklin (Corliss’ suitor), and the comic timing of JoAnn Gracey, playing Louise. The ensemble’s youngest member, Joshua McLemore in the role of Raymond Pringle, was another standout, playing the annoying neighbor always looking to make a quick buck. As Mr. McLemore matures and expands his acting resume, he will certainly become a well-rounded actor.
Kiss and Tell is definitely worth seeing. The care for detail is evident in all aspects of the production, and makes for a wonderful experience at the theater. If you are looking for an opportunity to travel back to the 1940’s, I encourage you to see Kiss and Tell at Plaza Theatre Company. To take a phrase from the 40’s, it will certainly be a really “swell” time!