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Making onstage kisses seem real may be part of the actor's job, but still, it's a lot more complex than it might seem, says actor April Fossen.

Fossen, as the character known only as She, matches wits onstage with a former love, Daniel Beecher's He, in New York playwright Sarah Ruhl's "Stage Kiss," which will be staged in a regional premiere April 30-May 6 at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center by Wasatch Theatre Company.

The show, which debuted in Chicago in 2011, plays as a love letter to theatrical magic, even as it asks deeper questions about the differences between stage reality and real life. "And maybe they are not that far away from each other," says Mark Fossen, April's husband, who is directing the show and has studied the playwright's work while earning an MFA from the University of Idaho.

In the script, Ruhl has a grand time skewering stage conventions, including characters fighting during a fight call and a 32-second quick change. "It's a more soulful 'Noises Off,' " says director Mark Fossen. "It's a backstage farce about incompetent directors, confused actors and a backstage romance. When you're there, it's songs and dances and jokes. And that's the beauty of Sarah Ruhl — she can deal with big topics but deal with them in a very theatrical way."

Adds Beecher: "There's so much internal theatrical referencing, you can tell an insider is winking at us."

April Fossen says she appreciates the technical challenges of the kissing scenes in "Stage Kiss." Of course, it helps that she's kissing a longtime friend and acting colleague, and is only slightly complicated by the fact that her husband is directing the action.

The characters are required "to make huge emotional leaps that communicate volumes but still feel realistic," she says, adding that it will be interesting to see audiences' reactions to them. "And we do them while kissing — so we're in this very intimate and small physical space with each other."

She adds: "Is it odd to stand there while your husband and your best friend discuss how much you should or should not be fondled in a scene? Yeah, a little bit. But we love and trust each other, so we laugh about it and move on."

Directing his wife's onstage kissing doesn't feel very dramatic, Mark Fossen says. "April is an actress I really like working with," the director says. "If I wasn't married to her, I would still want to work with her. But since we're married, I can convince her to do projects with me."

Maybe not very dramatic, just another part of the job, but still a bit odd, is how Beecher describes moments in rehearsal when he's told to kiss the director's wife more passionately. "Oh, OK, all right," is the only response, Beecher says with a laugh.

"Professionally, when you kiss somebody, that's a job, you're doing a job," he says. "But there can be times where personal things get into that. You're not always acting with someone you love. Or sometimes you're working with people you love a lot. You're playing with real activities that have physiological effects on your body."

But the Fossens' relationship on and offstage is only one of the interesting wrinkles of this production. Cast in the role as the show's Director is Anne Cullimore Decker, in a part that Ruhl wrote for a male actor. The theater company contacted the playwright's agent, who granted permission for the gender crossover.

The Director, who has written the play's scripts, has written parts that aren't particularly flattering for female characters, and that makes the role's gender change even more interesting and complicated, Mark Fossen says.

"It's a dream to be playing with Anne Decker," says Beecher, who studied with her in the acting program at the University of Utah. "She's the grande dame of Utah's acting community."

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The passion of onstage kisses

Sarah Ruhl's insider theatrical comedy, "Stage Kiss," receives a regional premiere from the Wasatch Theatre Company.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

When • April 30-May 14: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; 2 p.m. Saturday matinees May 7 and 14; special Mother's Day matinee at 2 p.m. May 8

Tickets • $20 ($30 for opening night gala); artsaltlake.org or 801-355-2787; wasatchtheatre.org

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