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'Stage Kiss' review: Love and theater

Jessica Hecht and Michael Cyril Creighton in

Jessica Hecht and Michael Cyril Creighton in "Stage Kiss" at Playwrights Horizons/Mainstage Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus

"Stage Kiss" is part parody, part inside-baseball valentine to theater, part falling-down silly physical comedy about love. It is by Sarah Ruhl, whose plays are widely celebrated in many other corners, but whose work -- including her Broadway debut, "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play" -- tends to wear me down with self-conscious whimsy.

But "Stage Kiss," staged with a light hand and disarmingly sharp timing by Rebecca Taichman, feels looser, less tidy and more naturally witty than what will no doubt remain her more admired plays. For starters, this one has a delicious performance by Jessica Hecht, rapidly becoming one of those rare do-no-wrong actors. She plays a married actress who gets reunited with an old love (Dominic Fumusa) in a revival of a terrible '30s drawing-room comedy about a dying married woman reunited with an old love.

This is an actress -- onstage and in life -- whose asides have their own asides, who can keep multiple funny, bemused and heartsick ideas in her expressive self at the same time. Hecht is surrounded by a large, generously ridiculous cast that inhabits the plays-within-plays as if they matter. And, though Ruhl doesn't quite know when to stop, the question of kissing -- real and/or pretend -- has seldom seemed both so foolish and a little profound.

WHAT "Stage Kiss"

WHERE Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

INFO $75-$85; 212-279-4200,

BOTTOM LINE An enjoyable physical comedy about theater and love.

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