Stop Kiss by playwright Diana Son was first seen off-Broadway in 1998. An almost desperate need to appear “real” and naturalistic cause strong performances to fall flat in Boutique Theatre’s overlong production directed by Byron Bache.
Callie (Cazz Bainbridge) is a veteran New Yorker. As such she’s been asked to take a friend of a kinda friend’s kinda friend under her wing and show her the ropes, and yes, that’s about as much sense as it made in the play too. Enter Sara (Tamiah Bantum) who has just moved to New York to pursue a teaching job in the Bronx. Energetic and idealistic Sara and safe, predictable, still-stuck-with-her-uni- friends Callie seem like an odd couple but hit it off straight away. The girls fast friendship, that is mistaken throughout the play for a homosexual relationship, is by far the most believable and engaging element present in the work. This can be attributed to both women’s stellar performances and commitment to their roles.
The drama of the play comes from a gay bashing that Sara and Callie fall victim to after a drunken night out that has led to them being in a park in the wee hours of the morning. Such subject matter should be gripping for an audience. It’s certainly worth exploring, especially during Midsumma Festival. However, uninteresting writing and shoddy, unenthusiastic directing take a play about events many members of society deal with on a daily basis and make it a play about … nothing.
Every element of the direction seems to work against the audiences engagement. A fact made all too plain by the restless, chit-chatty audience that emerged during the opening night’s performance. An already overlong, two-hour, play is made to feel even longer by the action grinding to a violent halt at the end of every scene. This is to make way for scene changes, accompanied by the same banal musical interlude every time, that take far too long and lack any kind of seamlessness. On stage costume changes are clearly intentional but fail to supply any reason for being there. One could suggest that we must see the characters change their clothes in their apartment to believe they are real people, but if that’s the case why does Callie have a strange woman in black living in her apartment to help her change clothes?
The set didn’t help the clunky movement of the action with a hand-operated revolve stage that seemed to have little purpose for being there beyond that they could do it, but never wondered if it was the best choice. In the end, the stage, which I’m sure was a ripper design idea in its beginning stages, ended up being a severe hindrance to the flow and action of the work.
Overall, Stop Kiss contained strong performances from its two committed leads. However, clumsy and jerky movement through what was meant to be a piece that flowed effortlessly, made it feel like a bore.