PORTLAND AUDIENCES have been conditioned not to expect anything so simple as a love story from Third Rail Repertory. The company's work, under the artistic direction of Slayden Scott Yarbrough, errs on the side of the comic (Fabuloso!), the dark (American Buffalo), and the darkly comic (A Skull in Connemara).
And while it wouldn't be quite accurate to describe their current show, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, as a straightforward romance, it is markedly more sentimental than the company's typical offerings. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That depends—how did you feel about Sleepless in Seattle?
The sentence I'm about to write feels like a disservice to one of my favorite local theater companies, but maybe they can recontextualize it for use in future promotional materials: If you're a fan of Nora Ephron movies, you will probably enjoy Kiss Me Like You Mean It. This is a play about capital-L Love, as defined by Hollywood; the kind that snares you the first time you set eyes on a girl and doesn't let go for the rest of your life.
Tony (Isaac Lamb) is blindsided by a pretty girl at a Manchester house party; Ruth (Lauren Bair) isn't sure if she's interested, but Tony is determined to win her over, even though both are already in relationships. And upstairs, an elderly couple (Jacklyn Maddux and Brian Thompson) are celebrating a particularly significant evening by drinking all the booze in the house, having crazy sex, and getting sentimental about their own past together. (I won't spoil the surprise by explaining the night's significance, but you should be able to figure it out by intermission.) The two relationships tidily overlap, forming a kind of before-and-after love spectrum by the play's end.
The pat structure of Kiss Me might well have been contrived during a particularly heady writing workshop, which is a shame, because playwright Chris Chibnall (nerd alert: he was a lead writer for the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood) populates his too-tidily constructed show with funny, likeable characters, ably handled by the small cast. Ultimately, though, for a show named after a Magnetic Fields' song, it's an awfully earnest and sentimental affair—one that requires not only a suspension of belief (hard enough), but also a suspension of the expectation that art bear any relation to reality.