by Diana Son
Rosewater Productions
Studio 16, 1545 W. 7th Ave.
February 16-26

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.

Jerry Wasserman


last updated: Monday, February 21, 2005 2:18 PM
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