Pucker up

Ocala Civic Theatre’s new black box show features a slew of smooches.

Tom Ferreira, left, and Joan Elizabeth, right, rehearse a scene from “Stage Kiss” at the NOMA Black Box in the Reilly Arts Center in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, April 8, 2024. The Ocala Civic Theatre ÒRattle BoxÓ production will performed at the NOMA Black Box from April 11-21, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted April 10, 2024 | By Lisa McGinnes

How many times do you have to rehearse an onstage kiss to get it right? In Ocala Civic Theatre’s (OCT) “Stage Kiss,” two actors are eager to find out. The two characters, simply identified as He and She, haven’t seen each other in more than a decade, but their rocky romantic history takes center stage when they’re cast as the leading man and lady in a sappy 1930s melodrama. As they spend more and more time together rehearsing, is their showmance simply superior acting on set, or are their long-dormant feelings blurring the lines between art and real life?

With two plays-within-a-play, guest director Hannah Meade said playwright Sarah Ruhl’s 2011 rom-com “bends genre a lot.”

“There’s a quote in the play—the director says ‘The tone is really slippery,’ and the tone in this play can be really slippery,” explained Meade, who is an emerging director currently based in San Diego. “We go from big melodrama farce to this really dry sense of humor that is really modern. It’s super theatrical, very funny, and it investigates love in such a fun way.”

Meade, who’s making her Ocala directing debut, called the community “so wonderful” and “so welcoming.”

“Coming here has been so pivotal and important for where I am in my career,” she said. “As somebody who likes to collaborate with the world around them, being able to work with the humans of this town has been such a warm welcome. When you get a great group of people to do that with, it’s the biggest gift.”

This show “wants to live in a black space—it needs the intimacy,” according to Greg Thompson, OCT executive and artistic director and the play’s scenic designer. “Sarah Ruhl is one of the greatest of our playwrights in the last 20 years” and is “really shaping things,” he said, adding that the Rattlebox series was created to feature underrepresented voices in the world of theater and put audiences up close to the actors for a unique perspective.

The sweeping script allows the actors to showcase the breadth of their talent, not just acting but overacting in the embedded melodrama, and even belting out an unexpected classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune sung in four-part harmony. Joan Elizabeth, who plays She, is returning to the NOMA Black Box stage after last starring in “Witch.” Longtime OCT volunteer Tom Ferreira returns to the stage as He, after his most recent onstage appearance in “Sweeney Todd.” Three OCT newcomers give noteworthy performances: Cody Novotny as the feisty, flamboyant director; Marilyn Lauren as two daughters who couldn’t be more different, Angela and Millie; and Oluwademilola “Demi” Thompson in dual roles as devoted spouses Husband and Harrison. Caleb Maclaren Lowe, as the endlessly patient Kevin, and Melissa Anne Nadenik, as the wholesome schoolteacher who’s had enough, round out the talented cast.

With actors appearing in present-day rehearsal wear plus garb from two different time periods, designing costumes that run the gamut—from modern athleisure to a Zoot suit, top hat and tails to a glamourous, bias-cut evening gown—added an unexpected challenge for OCT Resident Costume Designer Amanda Jones.

“The first play-within-the-play is set in the 1930s and it’s meant to be a little bit cliché,” she explained. “And then the second play-within-a-play is vaguely vintage and badly done, and that is intentional,” she continued. “So the different characters all sort of exist in a different time. It’s been an interesting new challenge to put bad costumes on stage.”

“Stage Kiss” is live on stage April 11-21 in the NOMA Black Box at the Reilly Arts Center, 500 NE Ninth St., and is supported in part by Marion Cultural Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts. OCT rates this show PG-13 and recommends it for those high school age and older. For tickets and more information, visit reillysartscenter.com or call (352) 351-1606.

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