"You have kissed each other, let's see, nine times a night, eight shows a week, four-week run, that's two hundred and eighty-eight times. That's not love. That's oxytocin." It's also a lot of kissing. This fall, Aeneid Theatre Company (ATC) will present Sarah Ruhl's comedy, "Stage Kiss," under the direction of Jack McCarthy.

Breaking up is never easy. Feelings get hurt, bridges are burned, and you do everything in your power to never see that person again. But what happens when you're forced to come face to face—or rather, mouth to mouth—with your ex? When former lovers He and She find themselves cast as the romantic leads in a play, things get messy as stage kisses lead to real kisses, and their romantic feelings from the past are rekindled.

Director Jack McCarthy shares his experience working on this contemporary comedy.

Why is this show important?

The play questions the purpose and value of theater. It questions not only how we tell stories as theater artists, but our purpose for doing so. Through story telling, are we really learning more about others, or just more about ourselves? Are we truly taking on another person's life, presenting them for how they are, or are we just playing ourselves? Are we ever really able to separate one part of ourselves from another part? As a university that develops growing theater professionals, it's important that our work makes not only our audience think about the value of our craft, but encourages us to define it as well.

What are the challenges of directing a comedy?

A major challenge of directing comedy is getting the jokes to stay funny throughout the rehearsal process. At the first read through, everyone is laughing. But by week six of the rehearsal process, it can be challenging to keep things fresh and anticipate how an audience might perceive a joke for the first time. That especially comes into play when we're working on technical delivery or timing of a joke. Another challenge comes from staying true to the reality of the character's situation, and avoiding "going for the joke." We want to work on being based in reality (so it's still believable,) but on the edge of reality.

 What was the greatest challenge in handling the meta-theatrical aspects of this show?

The greatest challenge comes from establishing and then blurring the lines of what's real in the play and what is "on stage." There are moments where Sarah Ruhl deliberately blurs the boundaries between what happens in the play-within-a-play and the "real" lives of the actors. Making sure the audience knows exactly when we're in the world of the play-within-a-play, and when we're in "real" life, and when those two blur is absolutely critical in helping an audience understand the story.

 What does this play say about the power of a kiss, even a staged kiss?

A kiss is an immediate way to connect with someone else while simultaneously making yourself more vulnerable to them. There's something very physical and just terribly awkward about a kiss that pushes you into contact with someone in a suddenly intimate way. Even a "stage kiss," or seemingly false connection, forces you to emotionally open yourself up to another person—and that vulnerability is inherently exciting and terrifying.

Ultimately I think it's a natural part of the human experience to want to connect with someone else—but sometimes our romantic ideals can block that need for real connection from actually happening. Even more than just the power of a kiss, I think the play explores what it means to allow yourself to be affected by someone else, and how terrifying it can be. But making that connection is the easy part. Making a relationship last, day after day is where the real challenge of love begins—and it's the same challenge the actor faces in keeping the same show fresh, day after day.

"Stage Kiss" will be playing October 19th -22nd in the Massman Theatre. There is a suggested $5 donation at the door. For updates on tickets and shows, visit www.aeneidusc.com