There were several reasons why I was more than a little excited to preview Pygmalion Theatre Company’s production of Stop Kiss, by Diana Son, but I’ll name only two here: First, I was utterly impressed by the small company’s production of Sordid Lives last season. I realized then, here is a small theater company — led by Artistic Director Fran Pruyn — which produces only three productions per season, with a real talent and vision for creating quality works. Second, and though we’re only acquaintances through our connection with QSaltLake and softball, I was thrilled to be witness to Brandie Balken’s directorial debut.
Balken’s a wise choice to have direct the production, not only for her intelligence and passion, but also for having played the lead role of Callie some years back.
Stop Kiss is a love story between two women set in contemporary New York City. It’s not your stereotypical, ‘Hey, let me buy you a Coors Light,’–‘Hey come home with me,’–‘Hey, let’s rent a U-haul’–love story.
Sara (Daisy Blake) has just moved from St. Louis to New York City with her cat Caesar, but not her boyfriend Peter (Lane Richins). She meets Callie (Tracie Merrill), fortuitously through Caesar, and the two quickly become friends. Though they can easily converse about their personal lives including Callie’s open relationship with her masculine college friend George (Alex Bala) and Sara’s teaching fellowship in The Bronx, there’s a sexual tension between them that neither will admit.
From one man’s point of view — one who has a very deep friendship with a lesbian couple, I must say that Callie and Sara’s interaction is humorous and honest. I’ve witnessed “swerving” before, and it’s endearing in Stop Kiss, just as it is in reality.
Once the couple succumb to their mutual desire, it unfortunately leads to a tragic event. Callie and Sara being witnessed kissing outside a bar in the West Village, are brutally attacked by the unknown assailant, which leaves Sara comatose. Callie then, through the questioning of a detective (Jeffrey Owen) and the aide of a compassionate nurse (Barbara Gandy), must come to terms with who she really is and who she truly loves.
Cutting back and forth in time, this comic drama depicts not only personal fears about sexuality, but societal fears as well. And again from one man’s point of view, Stop Kiss enlightens about hate crimes against lesbians. With such a devout ignorance among certain groups of people, it’s certainly not uncommon for gay women to be brutally prejudiced against, but it seems it’s just less talked about.
Balken says of the show, “One need not look too far to see this story played out off stage, in the streets of our towns and cities.” “People are boxed up, labeled and treated differently because they have been audacious enough to love.”
Frankly, Balken couldn’t be more right.
Stop Kiss is genuine in its simplicity and Son has created a heartfelt story with well-depicted characters.
Opening tonight, this is a worthwhile way to spend an evening with your valentine and for anyone who wants to believe in love.
Stop Kiss runs through Feb. 28, Black Box Theatre, Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway. Tickets $20, 355-ARTS or arttix.org.