AUBURN — Strong performances and a lot of food for thought highlight “Prelude to a Kiss,” Community Little Theatre’s current production.

Ryan Adair and Michelle Martin turn in outstanding performances as newlyweds Peter and Rita who find their relationship has taken an unthinkable twist. An old man at the wedding, played by Mark Hazard, kisses the bride … and it’s soon apparent to Peter and Rita that something mystical has happened. He’s aware that Rita’s vivacious and somewhat cynical personality is altered. She has become morose and introspective … like an old man.

Under the direction of Eileen M. Messina, “Prelude to a Kiss” leads the audience in a race to reverse the curse by the old man who has only a year to live.

Michelle Martin, a recent graduate of Southern Maine Community College, is returning to the stage in the role of Rita. Messina said directing Martin in this show has been a delight.

“She is a poised young actress with a light that just shines out from her face,” Messina said.

As Messina explains in her program notes, this play by Craig Lucas was written in 1990 in response to the AIDS crisis. Although never mentioned, nor even referred to, this metaphor for the AIDS epidemic explores the world turned upside-down for a man who finds himself in a relationship with someone who’s old and sick before their time.

Knowing this background for the play provides an important viewpoint. The mysticism of the play’s soul-swapping plot becomes much more than an intriguing story line.

Adair delivers credible intensity as he works to restore Rita’s soul to her young body. He grasps the astounding truth of this reversal of aged and youthful souls. Even as he realizes that Rita’s soul is not in her body, he comes to an understanding that he would always love her, no matter what form she took.

Michelle Martin’s restrained portrayal of Rita is extraordinary as her new persona takes over. It’s on a tropical honeymoon when Peter first realizes that Rita’s familiar and beloved quirks of character have changed. She is speaking with the soul of the old man, assuring Peter that they can somehow endure the new circumstances.

“Prelude to a Kiss” has plenty of light moments. There’s some humorous exchanges between Peter and has father-in-law, played by David Marshall.

There’s also humor, tinged with sweetness, in the scenes between Adair and Hazard, when Peter struggles to relate to the man within whom his bride now exists.

Supporting roles are ably filled by Shirley Bernier as Peter’s mother-in-law.

Christopher Hodgkin plays Taylor, who introduces the young couple.

Community Little Theatre veteran Dan Kane has a brief appearance as Tom, Rita’s boss at the bar where she works.

Playing a waitress in a bar in Jamaica is Rosa Lopes Wankunku, who is making her first CLT stage appearance. She is from Cacuaco, Angola, and only recently settled in Maine.

Other supporting actors are James McKinley as Uncle Fred; Kathy Demers, in her CLT debut as Aunt Dorothy; Mitchell Clyde Thomas as the minister; and Tracy Draper as Leah, the old man’s daughter.

The production is done with a minimal stage setting. Some furniture suggests living rooms, bars, and the wedding reception. It’s simple but adequate.

Dan Kane serves as assistant director and stage manager. Britney Anderson is producer and sound designer. Zach Gagne adeptly handles light design and board operation.

Remaining performances of “Prelude to a Kiss” are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 15-17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 18.

For tickets, call the Community Little Theatre box office at 783-0958 or go online to www.laclt.com.

Great Falls Performing Arts Center is at 30 Academy St., Auburn.

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Community Little Theatre actors Ryan Adair as Peter and Michelle Martin as Rita rehearse a scene from “Prelude to a Kiss.” Both give strong performances, according to reviewer David A. Sargent. Remaining performances of “Prelude to a Kiss” are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 15-17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 18.


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