Theater Review | ‘Kiss & Cry’ delights with mix of artistic elements

Following its American premiere in Pittsburgh on Oct. 2, the cast and crew of “Kiss & Cry” did a wonderful job bringing a moving performance to Boston from Oct. 10-12. Directed by acclaimed Belgian film director Jaco Van Dormael, “Kiss & Cry” follows an elderly woman’s memories of the five loves she has had throughout her life. The title refers to the bench where ice skaters wait to hear their score — the area where television audiences can watch the elation or despair of the athletes on a small stage with an elaborate background. A poignant and emotional piece, “Kiss & Cry” is aptly named.

Performed in the beautifully restored Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, the one and a half hour piece incorporated a vast array of artistic forms. Filmed as the audience watched, a cameraman focused in on the choreography of hand movements over miniature sets, such as a small train station and a dollhouse. The filmed images were then displayed in real time on a large screen at the back of the stage. Though slightly overwhelming at first — the audience was unsure if they should focus their attention on the screen or the actors themselves — viewers were soon able to settle in and appreciate the form in its entirety.

An opening narrative outlines the central dilemma: the main character is wondering where all of the people she has met throughout her life have gone. The narrator concludes that they are “somewhere, fallen into a deep crack in our memory.” Following this realization, the piece begins to travel to the moment when, in her youth, the woman touched the hand of a 14-year-old boy on a train and fell in love. However, the piece moves even further back in time, depicting what appeared to be a representation of the beginning of life — in a brief demonstration of evolution that rivals that of the opening scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). Vials of ink are dropped into a tub of water, where the image of a quickly moving hand emerges, representing a small being. The hand slowly turns into a fist, and the blue backlighting is replaced with magenta as the hand starts to pump like a heart in time with the recorded sound of a heartbeat. The hand then moves onto an expanse of sand, standing on four fingers (or legs), and continues to right itself to two before proceeding into the next scene.

One of the most notable aspects of the performance was the collective emotion portrayed by the two dancers, Mich?le Anne De Mey and Gr?gory Grosjean, as well as the entire crew. In one sequence, De Mey and Grosjean use their hands to transport us to the older woman’s youth during a disco while the cameraman weaves his camera around their intertwined fingers and director Van Dormael shines lights from above. Though the focus was on the four hands of the duet, both the actors and crew moved in time with the music. De Mey, especially, seemed to pour her soul into her work — though her face was framed by darkness during a sequence where her hands were mourning the abandonment of a lover, her eyes were still closed in pain as she mouthed the accompanying foreign lyrics.

By following the woman’s relationships over an entire lifespan, the piece becomes universal, allowing people of all generations to connect with the story. All of the crew members and actors wore simple black clothing. This, paired with the anonymity of two unadorned hands, allowed audience members to insert themselves into the woman’s life. From the fleeting love of youth, to a sexual assault committed by someone she cared about deeply, to an unrequited love, the absence of specific names or excessive narration enabled the audience to think about their own experiences throughout the play.

Indeed, the accessibility of the piece — evident in details like a train station sign that read “Boston” and in the musical score, which included numbers by Vivaldi and Gershwin — was another one of the piece’s highlights. Finally, the ambiguity of the play’s ending and the questions it left unanswered — Did the woman commit suicide? Did she go to heaven? Did she rediscover the love of her youth, or an entirely new love? — forced the audience to actively think about serious subjects like religion and the afterlife. “Kiss & Cry” was, overall, a well-executed result of the ArtsEmerson effort to bring praised cultural works to Boston.