Thursday, February 25, 2010

Families in Conflict | Review | Tucson Weekly

Families in Conflict | Review | Tucson Weekly:

Families in Conflict

IT's 'Kisses' exudes humanity, while LTW's 'Wife' delivers hilarity

Iron Kisses is an odd title for the play currently running at Invisible Theatre. It penetrates the complexities of family dynamics, but does so with warmth and humanity rather than a cutting edge.

The show begins with actor Dwayne Palmer alone on stage, sitting in a plain wooden chair and speaking to the audience in gentle tones. He pulls a drawing by a child out of a box and explains that the yellow lines emanating from the figure's head are not strands of hair, but rays of happiness.

Then comes an unexpected moment of confusion: Palmer says that he's the child's mother. It almost seems like a mistake, but the picture is signed to Mommy.

Carrie Hill and Dwayne Palmer in Iron Kisses.

Just as you try to work out some La Cage aux Folles scenario in your head, Palmer transforms from Mommy to Daddy. He sits back, changes his posture, deepens his voice and alters his speech patterns—and suddenly, we meet the child's father.

It's a wonderful moment of theatricality—a transformation that could never work on film. And the fluid portrayal of gender illustrates the play's point almost as well as any of the dialogue. Playwright James Still suggests that gay marriage—a major theme in the play—is not about "issues" or "controversy," but simply about human relationships. Throughout, Still focuses on the complexities of his characters rather than drawing lines in the sand. The mother and father Palmer plays in the first scene are parents to Barbara and Billy, and Billy has just sent them an invitation: He is marrying his boyfriend in San Francisco.

Billy's parents are an old-fashioned, church-going, Midwestern couple. While they don't approve of homosexuality, they do love their son, and their concerns are treated with great compassion. They are struggling to find balance in a world that seems to have changed around them.

Actress Carrie Hill steps into the dual role of Mother and Father in the second scene, picking up the story with the parents' return from Billy's wedding. Certain mannerisms and speech patterns carry over, but Hill's Mother seems more agitated and sarcastic than Palmer's, and her Father is less aloof.

That's partly because the actors each have a distinct stage presence. Hill, for one, has a bright, charismatic energy that informs her characters. But the two actors' portrayals also depend on which sibling is at the center of each scene.

While the first scene deals with Billy, the second focuses on his sister, Barbara. After marrying young and having two children, Barbara now faces divorce. Conversations with her mother always end in argument, so she turns to her brother for support. Hill and Palmer transition into playing the sister and brother, and in the final scene, they're onstage together as the siblings, exhibiting a wonderful intimacy that paints a lifetime of shared experience.

Director Gail Fitzhugh has guided her actors to create moving, nuanced performances with plenty of charm and humor. The title may be Iron Kisses, but the outcome for the audience is a compassionate smile and a warm heart.

Invisible Theatre

  • Tue., Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 7

Friday, February 19, 2010

'Iron Kisses' warmly embraces parents, kids who love each other

'Iron Kisses' warmly embraces parents, kids who love each other

'Iron Kisses' warmly embraces parents, kids who love each other

Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

Dysfunctional families have made for some juicy theatrics - from "Medea" to "Next to Normal," we have families falling apart and deep in crisis.

So it's kind of a relief to see "Iron Kisses," Invisible Theatre's latest offering.

The James Still comic drama is a family-centric play that looks on the four members - parents, son, daughter - with humor and compassion. And they are our parents, our children, our next-door neighbors.

The parents struggle with a son who is gay - a fact of life that is foreign to them. But they love him, and while his lifestyle confuses them, it doesn't change their love.

The daughter is in an unhappy marriage, and the parents struggle with that, too - they just want their children to be happy.

And those children find humor in their parents, see them as set in their ways at times, exasperating, but they never doubt that they are loved by them.

Grief is part of the picture. So is joy, anger, regrets.

Whoa, normalcy. How weird is that?

Unfortunately, normalcy doesn't necessarily make for profound theater, and "Iron Kisses," while sweet and honest, doesn't uncover new territory or explore the depths of family life or feelings.

But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.

Gail Fitzhugh has directed this play with restraint, never allowing it to slip into cliché or schmaltzville. And she had a lot of help from her two-person cast, Dwayne Palmer and Carrie Hill.

Still's conceit is a tough one: The actors portray both parents and children, each slipping quickly from one character to another and back again. Palmer and Hill managed to keep the characters clear with just a shift of a brow, a movement of the legs, or a softening of the voice. It was clear who was who within minutes into the 90-minute, one-act play. There are hefty monologues and long stretches where the actors are on stage alone, and Palmer and Hill never faltered.

This is a slight play, with an ending that fails to satisfy.

But it's also a warm embrace to parents who love their children and children who love them back.


"Iron Kisses"

• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.

• Playwright: James Still.

• Director: Gail Fitzhugh.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through March 7.

• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

• Tickets: $22 to $25.

• Reservations and information: 882-9721.

• Cast: Carrie Hill and Dwayne Palmer.

• Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.


by Chuck Graham

What is gender exactly? What does it matter? What does it really mean, aside from the biological differences in plumbing? Underneath the socially approved manners and dress for men and women, are we all the same?

Playwright James Still kind of says we are in “Iron Kisses,” a one-act of domestic drama designed to contrast and compare the emotional differences of one loving family in a small Midwestern town. His play is set on two actors.

The new Invisible Theatre production casts Carrie Hill and Dwayne Palmer. In lengthy monologues, each plays both parents. Then as the tension escalates, Hill becomes Barbara and Palmer becomes Billy, the grown children of those two parents, reflecting on their home lives and sibling loyalties.

It is a daring theatrical manipulation, which these actors make work beautifully. With direction by Gail Fitzhugh, we see traditional parent roles transform from authoritarian figures into a pair of caring people finding their own paths to understanding their son’s homosexual lifestyle.

In the opening scene, Palmer sits on a chair talking sweetly about Bill. Then we realize the character talking is Bill’s mother. With only the briefest pause, Palmer’s body language becomes more rigid and his voice more brusque. Now he is speaking as Bill’s father.

This back-and-forth monologue flips several times between mother and father, as each goes further into their desire to support their son even as they disapprove of homosexuality. What we get in the audience is a fascinating perspective about the nature of love – that between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between the grown children and those they will choose in life to be their own lovers.

This is theater poetry at its finest. The language is clear and natural, but the impact is mystical and indefinable, just as poetry’s impact can be mystical and indefinable. Even though we can’t precisely describe the feeling, each of us can feel it in our own way.

We feel their struggle deepen when Hill takes the stage alone to play both the mother and father who recall other memories of their children. The mother responds to the genuine love she sees between Bill and Michael, when the young couple is invited to dinner.

Mother remembers them secretly holding hands under the table, exactly what any shy heterosexual couple would do during a visit with parents. It is the ordinariness of these memories that holds the most power, dramatizing again how we are so similar.

“Iron Kisses” does step the drama up a notch with Palmer and Hill onstage together. While Bill feels guilty about being gay and tries to overcompensate by being the perfect doting son, Barbara becomes the adolescent rebel.

Although the subject matter may be inflammatory, the language is as natural and unpretentious as macaroni and cheese for dinner. Hill and Palmer have an equally natural chemistry onstage.

We can believe they are brother and sister, competing for their parents’ attention but also defending each other against the rest of the world.

There is plenty of humor in the dialogue, though the play becomes a bittersweet experience as we watch this family – unique by definition – discover it isn’t the differences but the similarities that will keep them together. Without any preaching, we are also reminded the differences aren’t really all that different, anyway.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to March 7 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $22 Wednesdays-Thursdays, $25 Fridays-Sundays. For details and reservations, 882-9721, or visit

Friday, February 12, 2010

'Iron Kisses' delves into family dynamics

'Iron Kisses' delves into family dynamics

Just 2 actors and 4 characters will cover a lot of domestic ground

'Iron Kisses' delves into family dynamics

Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010 12:00 am

Family. Just the word conjures up images of conflict and comfort. Love that is intense and unconditional.

It's a subject that has long occupied playwright James Still, author of plays for adults and children, television programs for children, and of "Iron Kisses," which Invisible Theatre will open next week.

"Mysteries of family, issues of forgiveness," he said, talking by phone from his Seattle home.

"I've been writing long enough to realize that in many ways, I've always been writing about the dynamics of family."

"Iron Kisses" has all the elements of a normal family: the parents confounded by their adult children, and the children by their parents. Turmoil, arguments, love, pain and a unique relationship between siblings.

" 'Iron Kisses' is one of those plays I'm glad I wrote because I would have been envious of whomever had," said Still, who has been writing professionally for half of his 50 years.

"As a writer, I admire the craft in this play. I admire the seemingly simplicity. Yet it manages to go so deep. In this play, I am more focused on all the things that are powerful in it, rather than the flaws."

"Iron Kisses" has a compelling structure: Just two actors and four characters: the mom, the dad, the gay son who is about to marry his partner, and the daughter on the verge of a divorce.

PHOTOS BY TIM FULLER / INVISIBLE THEATRE Dwayne Palmer and Carrie Hill in Invisible Theatre's "Iron Kisses."
The subject of family has long occupied playwright James Still.

The actors switch characters in an instant. But don't worry about catching on.

"Within three to five minutes, the audience gets what's going on," Still said.

And while it opens with the parents struggling with their son's impending marriage to a man, there's more to it than that.

"It's about so much more than a gay character," Still said. "It's about the idea of marriage. How marriage is imperfect and challenging."

Still aimed to treat the parents fairly, giving a fuller, truer picture of the family.

"It would be easy to write a play about this particular family," he said. "The mom and dad are a little baffled by their gay son and are remorseful about him. The braver choice for me was how to write those parents with compassion rather than judgment. It's often rewarded to bash people who don't share our point of view."

That approach led him to the subject of forgiveness in the story.

"I was interested in, 'How do you forgive people who have quite a different view from your own?' " he said.

The play, said director Gail Fitzhugh, "has a very universal feel. It has everything to do with family, parents, siblings."

But don't expect a drama that's devoid of humor, she added.

"It walks the line carefully. There is humor in the relationships, and there's some sadness and some secrets. It's rich in that way."

If you go

• "Iron Kisses"

• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.

• Playwright: James Still.

• Director: Gail Fitzhugh.

• When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through March 7.

• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

• Tickets: $16 for preview; $22 to $25 for regular performances.

• Reservations and information: 882-9721.

• Cast: Carrie Hill and Dwayne Palmer.

• Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.