Stop Kiss

Gender identity in a different style

Tucked inside the program of Stop Kiss, presented by Brava Theater Center, is a flier for I Think I Like Girls (reviewed here last week). It's logical cross-advertising: Both plays run within a week of each other, both feature a younger cast, and both are about lesbians. But where Girls confronts gender identity head-on in its documentary style, Diana Son's Stop Kiss presents Callie (Michi Barall) and Sara (Dena Martinez), heretofore straight (or assumed so), falling in love. The politics of their love, at least to them, are secondary. But the politics exist: When Callie and Sara share a kiss in a park, a male passer-by beats Sara into a coma. The police take 30 minutes to reply to the 911 call, and the detective grills an evasive Callie about what exactly they were doing in the park. Callie's apparent paralysis at the ensuing media attention and plethora of letters she gets (“”… speak truth to power,' I don't know what that means …”) stands in sharp contrast to Girls' self-aware characters. Callie does not take a political stance, and this is one of the reasons the play works so well — it is primarily about two people in love, which is universal. That the play doesn't preach is perhaps its most subversive act.

Stop Kiss is not chronological, instead employing a series of flash-forwards and -backs that start with St. Louis-native Sara's arrival at Callie's Manhattan apartment. Director and set designer Loy Arcenas serves this multilayered structure well, creating an apartment with five window blinds (all closed) fixed at varying heights — some above the apartment's ceiling. A table also serves as the detective's office, and a curtain at stage left creates the hospital. This allows for imaginative scene changes, as when Callie dressing Sara in the hospital becomes the scene with their momentous kiss.

Barall and Martinez turn in good performances, creating easily likable characters with help from Son's quippy dialogue, which sometimes gets too sitcom-y. But Son quickly follows a humorous scene with a serious one, and Barall handles these transitions beautifully. In fact, both actresses create some wonderful moments, from a charming scene in bed to a hospital episode. Sometimes moments rather than words carry the greater political message.

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