- OnStage New York Critic
NEW YORK, NY - The coming of age story of two “broken” kids, the story of friendship and love in their beauty and ugliness, Kiss it, Make it Better is produced by Theater 4 People and can be viewed in the New Ohio Theater (which is located in Manhattan, NOT Ohio). Raw and poetic, the play falls upon you as a tsunami of engrossing pain, untamed passion, and tenderness that is confused with cruelty.
Three black hooded figures wait in the shadows of ascaffolding construction as the audience enters the theater. Nothing good can come from them; the air is filled with tension and florescent blue light. When two kids, Nadia(Erika Phoebus, who also wrote the play) and Ty (Brian Miskell) storm into the place, it brightens up with their laughter and silly childish games. The construction sight becomes a playground where two kids playpretend. Who could know at the time that the house at which they playwill transform into a game of a different sort when they become teenagers.
The director Isaak Byrne, with the help of the set designer Joshua Rose, madethe process of Nadia and Ty growing upa spectacular show with well timed costume changes and smooth transitions.The three-unit “rollercoaster” set is spun by black hooded figures by 180 degrees and reveals a porch of a house on the other side. In the beginning of the first act,as other characters get introduced, the changes happen every few minutes which gives the show a nice, fast phase.
The sight of the action is supposed to be an abandoned fairground, which I only found out towards the middle of the show from the text of the play. I am not trying to say that Joshua Rose did a bad job designing it, quite the opposite. Taking the design into different direction was quite brilliant. The set looks like abandoned scaffolding which suggests the process of building something. But the abandoned scaffolding illustrates stagnation, the point of no development, in which the characters will find themselves trapped eventually.
The imagination of Nadia and Ty and some plastic sheets helps them to transform the skeleton of construction into a “home”. It seems symbolic that the house where Nadia and her mother live is just on the other side, so close and yet so far away. As a troubled teenager she can’t connect to her mother. Amy Higgs plays the role sincerely, although the decision to castan actress of the same age for the motherasthe daughter is an odd one. It reminds me of a school theater production. This is disappointingly neglectful,especially since the rest of the production looks professionally polished.
Chris Cornwell makes a very good Bradley, a seductive babysitter from the kids’ childhood. The cast is topped offwith the hooded figures (Tom Walsh, Will Van Moss) called the ‘boy chorus’, almost like in a Greek tragedy. Besides helping around as stagehands during the transitions, and creeping in the dark in the back of the stage indicating a nearing danger, they make noises enhancing the dialogue and the sound design of Andy Evan Cohen. He also wrote the haunting guitar riffs, reminiscent of the Twin Peaks, soundtrack for the show.
The atmosphere of a deserted place, where the kids are playing their passionate and cruel games by themselves,isconveyed bythe lighting design by Joshua Rose. You might think that the intense florescent colors of LED lights are more appropriate for a club or a concert but they actually worked perfectly for Kiss it, Make it Better denying the text sentimentality which it tends to fall into sometimes.The use of gobos (a physical stencil or template placed inside or in front of a lighting source, used to control the shape of emitted light) created the interesting dynamic lighting. The shadows of other constructions fell unevenly on the actors’faces: as Nadia and Ty moved around, their faces were lit partially. Think of a Hollywood close-up where the eyes ofa diva are placed in the strip of light and the rest of her face disappears in shadows. Joshua Rose achieved a similar effect in a more subtle and appropriate way; what a bold and innovative decision!
The parade of the technical achievements of the show is concluded with the video and projections design by Maxwell Bowman, featuring trippy surrealist sequences, ‘nets’ of abstract patterns, and video ghostsof people andbuildings. The daring lighting design and projections complimented the play very well and managed to not take away from the actors, which delivered performances that gave me goose bumps at times. Sometimes the text loopsfor longer then needed but, ultimately, Erika Phoebus did a great job evoking the memory of the dirt and poetry of teenage years.
Even if you are not in the mood for an evocative story of the blooms and thorns of teenage love, come anyway to appreciate the exquisite production and to support a good cause. All tickets are pay-what-you-can, 10% of all box office and concessions salesgoes to the organization called RAINN, Rape Abuse Incest National Network (https://rainn.org).
Kiss it, Make it Better runs until June 18th at the New Ohio Theatre at 154 Christopher St #1E, New York. All the performances are “pay what you can”. For schedule and tickets visit http://newohiotheatre.org/. For more information about Theatre4People go to the website of the company: http://theatre4thepeople.com/