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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Stop Kiss

Or: The Lilly grown, the Lilly Grounéd.

By Diana Son

Directed by Lauren Shouse.

Stop Kiss is a a truly remarkable play. On one the one hand it is a very simple story about two women, Callie (Allegra) and Sara (Gay) forming a friendship and something a little bit more over a cat, a city, and their different ways of life that are slowly but steadily converging towards a felicitous harmony. Yet at the same time it is bitter, bitter look at what divides us, not only in terms of sexuality, but of race, class, personal advocacy, where we come from and what we don’t have and what we are willing to fight for. The amazing bit about this second function of the show, is that its messages never once overshadow the main story or are underlined in any way. They are merely the stones that hold this exquisite water lilly of a play in place, and they are there to silently meet that flower as it is crushed and ground into its moorings.

Played in the Fisk 115 studio (they don’t get much more intimate in this space), Stop Kiss divides its time between Callie’s apartment where the two women bond over wine and shared stories, and Sara’s hospital room where she recovers from being beaten to within an inch of her life: her speech, motor-skills, beloved job and bright future gone.

The play primarily belongs to Allegra. Son has molded in Callie the typical New Yorker: sharp, smart, evasive, mildly abrasive, and quirky but with an ingrained fear of connection and commitment that leaves her without anything to truly be alive for. Where Son puts her work above the legion of standard New York characters is giving Callie the space and the impetus to grow warm. Allegra has all the building blocks down pat (indeed in some of the opening scenes she can be a little too edgy for the audience to embrace willingly), but her master stroke is this slow progression, this blossoming, sometimes of the blink and you’ll miss it variety, which draws Sara, and the audience closer to her.

Gay does an excellent job of providing that impetus. A bright-eyed, well brought up St. Louis girl, Sara has come to teach third graders in the Bronx (cue the spit take from every single white-middle class character in the show). Sara also has her transformation, she loves New York and the boldness (perhaps a little unguided boldness) that it sparks in her. Gay’s growth mirrors Allegra’s, both in the steel in her spine and her growing affection for her confidant. But where she really shines is the silent disappear inside the cage of her own body, a cage wrought by violence and wickedness, as Callie struggles with her guilt, her feelings and the distance between the two of them.

Not to give laurels with out cost, both actresses need to jumpstart themselves in the matters of pacing. The spaces in-between these little glimpse of light have a tendency to step rather than clip from thought to thought, which gives the impression that neither is really listening to the other. Make the lines flow, and the light will shine ten times the brighter.

Mrs. Winsley (Cano, who doubles as the sympathetic nurse) the unlikely rescuer of our heroines, feels like she should be the character of another story. She revices an honorable mention for subtlety in her amiable but squirm inducing awkward assumptions about our heroines. Sad to say the men of the play, thought all well sallied, leave something to be desired as rounded charaters. Det. Cole (Johnson) is a typical “white suit cop”: judgmental, insensitive, and inefficient. Callie’s-friend-with-benefits George (Shapiro), also has a good handle on the building blocks of new york character, but with nothing to keep him grounded. The closest we come to seeing a soul is Peter (Gross), Sara’s ex, a sweet boy but narrow minded and unintentionally manipulative. His sense of rivalry with Callie, his visions of being the prince over his affections comatose form bring forth shoots of sympathy that curl up when you realize just how naive those shoots are. For my own part I caught myself thinking ‘Ms. Son, it’s true we males are not the brightest or the most genial of creatures in creation but we’re not all bad’.

I emerged from the tiny space, having witnessed a progression of ‘perfect moments’ (a little too far apart, pacing is all) chewing a wad of sad and wistful thoughts. What is the point of a perfect moment, of courage, of self expression, of that perfect water lilly of life if all that’s going to meet it is the rocks of devision? Why, when all seems right, does wickedness rise up and bear its poison fangs? How can we ever hope to find happiness if we do not know ourselves. Ah well, at least we have good dramas and artists who perform them well. That is comfort enough.

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