Don’t Miss Stop Kiss on Stage at CAMP Rehoboth
You may have heard that Stop Kiss—which will be performed at CAMP Rehoboth on March 10-12, 2017—is about gay-bashing, which isn’t quite right. The signal event in the play is indeed the brutal beating of a young woman after she is seen kissing another woman. What Diana Son does, however, is slyly place the occurrence in the context of a larger consideration of the perils of living life fully. Making choices and commitments is a scary business, Stop Kiss suggests, but what is the alternative?
The play’s heroine hasn’t committed to anything when we meet her. Callie, who is hovering around 30, came to New York as a university student and has stayed on, fairly contentedly but passively, showing initiative only in the selection of restaurants.
She presents her job, surveying traffic patterns from a helicopter for a radio station, as something to make fun of. She and her longtime boyfriend, George sleep with other people, but “will probably get married,” she says. The rent-controlled apartment where she has lived for many years is still mostly unfurnished, with stacks of newspapers as its most prominent decorative accent.
This description, which brings to mind the perpetual adolescents of television shows like Friends and Seinfeld, may make you wish you could switch channel, you can’t.
Ms. Son, with the character of Callie, creates a portrait of someone who has made a defense system out of being easily distracted, the idea being that if you don’t focus, you won’t want things too badly. As someone else says of her, she has a tendency, in all things, to “swerve.”
This observation is made, in a delightfully drunken moment, by Sara, the Midwesterner who, against her parents’ and boyfriend’s wishes, has come to New York to work with third-grade public school students in the Bronx. Unlike Callie, Sara is strongly focused and alarmingly unafraid, to the point that she feels compelled to answer beggars and harassers on the street.
Yet when the women meet, it’s clear that they share a sense of humor and a whimsy that borders on the precious.
A strong rapport allows acquaintance to flower into friendship. Nothing here that isn’t exactly like countless similar relationships formed daily all over New York. Once we get past the ordinariness of it all, however, it becomes apparent that this friendship has an undertow of sexual attraction. Hanging out together doesn’t take Callie and Sara to the Upper West Side but to some of the trendier bars of the West Village.
The sexual tension is visible in gestures, looks and scraps of conversations. Yet, while ever present, it seems as impenetrable as the brick wall beyond Callie’s apartment window. The kiss of the title comes as a cataclysmic leap of self-awareness, trust and caring. Because it could happen as easily between a man and a woman, Stop Kiss transcends the specifics of a gay romance and embraces the broader theme of love and commitment and personal identity.
It is because that kiss, unlike the happy ending kiss in an old fashioned romantic movie, is between two women that the play is about the ugliness of violence as well as the tenderness of a first kiss. After a brief burst of happiness, this kiss turns abruptly into a nightmare situation that gives this play an alarmingly timely edge—one which resonates in Laramie Wyoming, Orlando, as well as New York City .
While men kissing men and women kissing women may not be as rare here as there, such a kiss on a downtown park bench at four o’clock in the morning is an open invitation to the sort of Crazy particularly likely to lurk about in a big city after most people have gone to bed. That unseen Crazy’ s random act of violence and its aftermath is what gives Ms. Son’s extremely funny and poignant chronicle a painful seriousness.
What we have then is a seriocomedy—a thoroughly modern story that uses a gay love story to point out the unexpected places to which love can take us. It is also very much a play about specifically New York—its bright lure and its darker side. Above all it is a well crafted work. The story moves forward with dialogue that while crisp and straightforward rather than poetic, effectively uses the poet’s technique of telescoping action and character
Auditions for Stop Kiss, directed by Russell Stiles, will be held December 11 and December 12, 7-8:30 p.m. at CAMP Rehoboth. Auditions will consist of a cold reading and short interview. Call 814-935-8821. Email Russell Stiles