Celeste Oliva says she considers both New York and Boston to be her home cities. The actress, who’s starred in Lyric Stage’s “Chinglish” and will play She in their upcoming production of “Stage Kiss,” also lives a dual life in the Sarah Ruhl-penned comedy. A play within a play — which Oliva says is really “two plays within a play” — “Stage Kiss” gets meta by exploring the unique career requirements of an actor.
“Can you seriously imagine going in for a job, and part of your interview is kissing someone you’ve never met?” Oliva laughs.
Oliva’s character, She, is opposite He, her former lover, who gets cast opposite her in a ’30s drama. She and He are both married to other people but find themselves immediately intimate once again — on stage. Of course, complications and drama ensue.
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We chat with Oliva about the awkwardness of kissing on stage and understanding her character’s complicated dilemma.
How does the concept of doing a play within a play with another play come through?
It starts with She, a woman, who has been married for some time and used to be an actress. She gets cast from an audition, goes to rehearsal and her scene partner is her old lover. They’re required to kiss so much that the lines are blurred and they start a romance. There’s the play [that they’re cast in] which is a 1930’s drama, then there’s also a “Pretty Woman” meets “The Stage,” but then there’s also a love story.
And She and He are both married to other people when they reunite. How was it for you to play a character who is knowingly entering an affair?
I guess it might seem now that I play a lot of characters who do this. [Laughs] But I’m not personally someone who would do this. I think for the character [I played] in “Chinglish,” that person wanted a lover on the side. The woman I play now wants a clean break. She’s fallen in love again.
I think it’s very difficult to kiss someone you don’t even know, let alone someone you had a relationship with, and keep that line from blurring into reality. By kissing, you become more intimate. “Stage Kiss” talks about those relationships within a play, and how you negotiate those in real life.
Live kissing on demand must sometimes create confusion. How do you set boundaries as an actor, emotionally, physically, professionally?
I think as a woman you have to know what you’re going up against. Sarah Ruhl writes in a way where you have to wait for stage direction from the director. [As an actor] you show up for the audience, and have to be vulnerable already. When you ask for a stage direction, you have to remember to protect yourself, and learn to open yourself up in a healthy way.
If you go:
Feb. 24-March 26
Lyric Stage Company
140 Claredon St.
Tickets start at $33, lyricstage.com