by Diana Son
Studio 16, 1545 W. 7th Ave.
How’s this for a timely play? Think same-sex marriage
debate, Aaron Webster murder/gay-bashing, and those two women
locked in a kiss in a Vancouver Valentine’s Day contest,
eliciting indifference, bemusement and, in a few cases, rage
from passers-by. Diana Son’s Stop
Kiss is set in New York
City but presses a lot of local hot buttons. That its own structure
proves its worst enemy makes it no less fascinating.
One of its allures is watching the friendship between two attractive, young heterosexual
women gradually develop into a courtship. Sara (Monique Helbig) has come to New
York from St. Louis, leaving her long-time live-in guy and a comfy private school
job for the challenge of teaching inner-city kids in the Bronx. She’s befriended
by Callie (Lori Triolo), a traffic reporter with a slacker boyfriend (Ben Cotton)
and a shallow life. Sara confronts things; Callie avoids. Sara plunges into the
darkest Bronx; Callie flies over it in her traffic ‘copter. But each sees
something in the other which eventually leads to a passionate late-night kiss
in a Greenwich Village park. When a guy hassles them, calls them dykes, Sara
resists and is beaten into a coma.
Alternating with scenes of the evolving courtship are scenes
of the aftermath: the police investigation, Sara’s angry ex (Paul Christie) berating Callie
in a confrontation that should be more explosive than it is, and Sara’s
painful recovery. This half of the play belongs to Callie, and its real hook
is her awkward adjustment to being perceived as lesbian once the gay-bashing
becomes front-page news. Triolo does great work modulating Callie’s journey
from frivolity to grief, child to grown-up, and curiosity to love with all the
ambiguities in between. Helbig makes the more solid, single-minded Sara equally
attractive. The audience roots for them all the way.
Playwright Son insists that Stop
Kiss is a love story rather
than a play about homophobia. But the boyfriends, the cop (Darren
Moore), the witness who called
911 (Nathalie Therriault) all express discomfort with the notion of same-sex
love. Callie and Sara will have to grapple with more than just their sexual
identities if they are to go beyond their initial kiss.
The play’s biggest problem is its before-and-after structure. The inexorable
drive towards the near-fatal kiss and Sara’s post-traumatic recovery loses
momentum in the long blackouts between each pair of short scenes as director
Kate Twa resets to indicate a new time and place. She could tighten things up
by eliminating many of the costume changes Sara and Callie make in what must
be a frantic backstage area. I liked the music covering these changes, everything
from Lauro Nyro to the theme from Friends, but after two hours without intermission,
it felt like someone had exhausted their CD collection.
I saw the show on preview night so I’m assuming that things will tighten
up considerably during its run. A very good first effort from Rosewater Productions
and all involved in this Equity co-op.