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