Body switch causes confusion in Oak Park-River Forest play
(Left to right) Oak Park River Forest High School senior Siobhan Fitzgerald as Rita Boyle, senior Da'Boris Bradley as Taylor McGowen and senior Caleb Jordahl as Peter Hoskins perform the opening scene of the play "Prelude to a Kiss" at the school December
OAK PARK — Annie Slivinski sees Studio 200 at Oak Park and River Forest High School as a risk-taking space.
That’s where, last week, students performed “Prelude to a Kiss,” which faculty adviser Slivinski called a mature and profound production.
In the play, written by Craig Lucas, a man and a woman meet, fall in love and get married. On their wedding day, a mysterious old man asks the bride for a kiss, causing the two to instantly switch bodies and leaving the groom to deal with the results.
“I think it’s a great balance between that weirdness, but also good, solid storytelling,” said director Jack Cramer, a senior.
He and the cast had a fondness for the script, with its humor and quick dialogue.
Composed of fantastical and emotionally realistic elements, Cramer said the play addresses what it means to love someone and how to reconcile physical changes with identity.
As the old man, senior Jake Shadrake said he was excited about the prospect of swapping characters, which he’d never done before.
The challenge, he said, was keeping up the physicality of a young bride within an aging exterior.
The play was one of Cramer’s selections for the Studio 200 program, which has seniors direct their peers in plays of their choosing.
Students apply for the program and are selected based on their stage experience, communication skills and levels of passion and maturity, Slivinski said.
“I think for high schools in this area, probably even the state, it’s a really unique program,” she said.
“Prelude to a Kiss” had a cast of just eight people – small compared to many high school productions, but large for Studio 200 selections. Sixty students auditioned.
The students had about four weeks to prepare for the full-length play, which was performed alley style, with the audience on two sides.
“When you spend so much time with it, you really come to appreciate all the nuance that’s there,” Cramer said.
It’s rare for actors to play opposite sexes within the same play, and they were tasked with showing the audience a change had occurred, even if it took some time for the characters to realize what had happened, Cramer said.
“I think it’s a really great challenge for them and a great learning experience for us,” he said.
Despite the surreal aspect of the play, Cramer believes the story is accessible for audience members and has a universal message: there’s more to love than just attraction.
Senior Caleb Jordahl said he connected with his character, Peter – one half of the young couple – which made the portrayal easier.
As Peter realizes what has occurred and reacts to the body swap, “I mostly had to figure out how to distinguish between them,” Jordahl said.
Senior Siobhan FitzGerald she first preferred portraying Rita, the young woman, but came to enjoy the complexities of being the old man who inhabits her body.
She tried to show distinct differences between the two while remaining in the same “costume,” like dropping her voice and acting awkwardly as the old man in a woman’s body.
“I really felt like when we switched, we switched souls,” she said.
The actors said being directed by a peer felt natural. Those involved with the Studio 200 program tend to elevate the program to a mature and serious level, Slivinski said.
“It’s really quite amazing how collaborative students can be with this whole process. … It really, truly shows an ensemble,” she said.