Theater Review: K-I-S-S-I-N-G (Huntington Theatre Company in Boston)

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by Lynne Weiss on March 17, 2023

in Theater-Regional


Poet, screenwriter, and performer Lenelle Moïse (pronounced Len-EL Moy-EEZ) is a playwright for this co-production from The Front Porch Arts Collective and The Huntington, the latter of which is staging the charming and engaging K-I-S-S-I-N-G, a romantic comedy chockablock with originality. Drawing on Moïse’s experiences of growing up in Cambridge, the play opens with a wrenching moment as teen-aged parents suffer the trial and tragedy of an unwanted pregnancy for parents without the resources to care for a child, a scene made palpably powerful by Patrese D. McClain and James Ricardo Milord as Dot and Jack.

Regan Sims, Ivan Cecil Walks
Regan Sims, James Ricardo Milord

But from that gripping introduction, we move on to meet fifteen-year-old Lala, delightfully portrayed by Regan Sims. This is a girl we want to get to know. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s an artist, and Sims conveys her determination and confidence, as well as her insecurities. Lala’s mother Dot is bitter and hopeless; her five-year-old brother is mysteriously unable to speak; her father Jack, whom she sees once a week, is affectionate and attentive, but is about to become the father of another daughter. When Lala is approached in a park by Albert (Ivan Cecil Walks), a smooth-talking seventeen-year-old lady’s man, Lala dismisses his practiced advances with feminist-inspired repartee that gets us laughing while increasing our admiration for this young woman.

Sharmarke Yusuf, Regan Sims
Sharmarke Yusuf, Regan Sims

Albert’s twin (fraternal, not identical) brother Dani (Sharmarke Yusuf) is another matter, however. Albert and Dani are from a wealthy Black family in the fictional Boston suburb of Covington. They are very different boys. Albert is barely scraping by academically in his private school but plans to run for class president and is expected to win; Dani has skipped a grade and is bound for Stanford. Dani drives a Prius; Albert wrecked his own car while driving high.

Ivan Cecil Walks, Sharmarke Yusuf, Regan Sims
Sharmarke Yusuf, Regan Sims

Lala’s world is very different. She lives in Height Bridge, an urban community known for crime and poverty, and depends on buses to get around. Rather than hitting on Lala, Dani recognizes the artist in her and takes her for her first visit to an art museum. He takes her into a forest and introduces her to his favorite tree, a massive oak that he calls “God.” Throughout the spring and summer, Dani and Lala grow closer and closer and yet, for Lala, something is missing. After Dani leaves for Stanford, Lala turns to his brother Albert for comfort and discovers much about herself and the nature of love.

Regan Sims
Ivan Cecil Walks, Regan Sims

Jason Ardizzone-West’s scenic design and Jorge Arroyo’s lighting plot simply stun. A combination of a complex stage set with turntable, the delicate, lovely lighting. and Hannah Tran & Yee Eun Nam’s projections move us seamlessly from numerous settings, including a huge tree, a starry night, and an art museum, and effectively portray not just the physical location of the characters but their emotional states and aspirations. Dominique Fawn Hill’s costumes are not only appropriate but actually look lived in, and Anna Drummond’s sound design ensures we hear every word. But the many pleasures of this must-see production come courtesy of director Dawn Simmons, a Co-Producing Artistic Director of the Front Porch Arts Collective (aka The Porch), a Black theatre company under the leadership of Simmons and Maurice Emmanuel Parent. The Porch has been enriching the Boston theater scene for the past seven years, building on the values of cultural inclusion and community advancement. K-I-S-S-I-N-G is not just a fitting production in their 2022/2023 season, with its focus on Black Joy and Love, but a triumph itself.

 Thomika Bridwell, Bobby Cius
Sharmarke Yusuf, Regan Sims

photos by T. Charles Erikson

Huntington Theatre Company
co-production with the Front Porch Arts Collective
The Huntington Calderwood/BCA, 527 Tremont St. in Boston
ends on April 2, 2023
for tickets, call 617-266-0800 or visit Huntington
for a streaming filmed performance (thru April 16, 2023),
visit Huntington Digital

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