'Stop Kiss' Worthy Season Finale
Written by Diana Son, Directed by Anna Waldron, Produced by Daniel Morris & Lauren K. Terry, Lighting Design by Samantha LeDoyt, Scenic and Prop Design by Daniel Morris, Costume Design by Margaret Hodes, Sound Design by Jon Williams, Stage Manager Kristin Williams, Assistant Stage Manager Justin Silverman
CAST: Callie, Scarlett Redmond; Sara, Lisa M. Smith; George, Rory Kulz; Peter, Tom Giordano; Detective Cole, Michael Simon; Mrs. Winsley/Nurse, Holli Banks
Performances through April 18 at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston Tickets available at the door or online www.badhabitproductions.org
When I read the blurb describing Stop Kiss, I knew it was both a play that I had to see and one that might be difficult to watch. It is the story of a new friendship between two young women that develops into romance and is tragically altered when one of them is brutally assaulted. Lots of gasps and not too many giggles expected in this one, but I was surprised and moved by the care taken with this Bad Habit Productions presentation. The horrific aspects of the story are understated and treated with dignity, while all the humor inherent in a burgeoning relationship is extracted by Director Anna Waldron, who tenderly coaxes authentic performances from a fine, young ensemble.
Award-winning playwright Diana Son magically shows us two sides of the same coin with equal aplomb. Using a format similar to that of The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, scenes alternate between the past and present lives of Callie (Scarlett Redmond), a hardened New Yorker, and Sara (Lisa M. Smith), an idealistic newcomer to the city from St. Louis, as they get to know each other and face the aftermath of the violent act. Son captures the varied and complex emotions and mating dance steps present in the Early Stages of coupling; the shyness, the joy, the insecurity, and the "aha!" moment. Both Redmond and Smith are spot on, their body language and facial expressions reflecting the awkwardness or delight of each stage accurately. In the parallel story, while Sara lies in a coma, Callie is left to deal with her guilt and questions about her sexual identity, as well as trying to figure out what she really wants in life. Waldron wisely makes Sara's presence a weighty constant by having her lie motionless in a hospital bed while the other characters interact elsewhere.
The peripheral players who drive home the point that this relationship is not being formed in a vacuum include Callie's "friend with benefits" George (Rory Kulz), a narcissistic throwback who cares about her in spite of his preoccupation with his own considerable needs, and Sara's ex-boyfriend Peter (Tom Giordano), whose hang-dog appearance befits his undiminished love for the one that got away. Holli Banks, a Liza Minnelli lookalike, doubles as Mrs. Winsley, the lone witness to the attack, and as the warm nurse caring for Sara. Michael Simon completes the cast as Detective Cole, the less than sympathetic gumshoe who interrogates Callie with a classic blame the victim manner of questioning. The perpetrator does not appear as a character, so Cole represents the nefarious element pulsing through the play that raises questions about what these two women were doing wrong that resulted in someone beating them up. His voice implies the impropriety of their behavior, including being out at 4:15 a.m., and he even casts aspersions on Mrs. Winsley's eyewitness account. Unfortunately, Simon's performance is unpolished, so it is difficult to determine if Cole is really a misogynistic homophobe or just an unsentimental cop who has seen too many of these crimes and solved too few.
Son definitely infuses her women with greater depth of character and varied personality traits than she does the men. Called upon to react to the changing relationship between George and Callie, Kulz conveys bemusement and a sense of loss as Sara's place in Callie's life grows in volume. Peter's role is one-note, but Giordano plays it with conviction. Conversely, Callie and Sara travel a broad arc, individually and collectively, sharing intimate dialogue and silences that ring true. I noticed many in the audience nodding appreciatively, smiling, and often laughing at their interactions because they are consistent with real life. Redmond and Smith never fail to make the emotional transition from present to past and back again as the scenes rapidly rotate between the hospital and Callie's apartment. With minimal set, prop, or costume changes, they clearly let us know where they are in every moment, not an easy task in this non-linear script.
The basement venue of The Factory Theatre lends itself perfectly to the setting of the play. Callie's apartment utilizes the exposed brick walls and is furnished simply, in the mode of economical post-graduate décor. A few steps away stage left is the hospital bed, wheelchair, and appropriate props. Samantha LeDoyt's lighting design effectively keeps the alternating scenes distinguishable, and Jon Williams' sound design reliably provides percussive noises from Callie's neighbors, as well as intermittent music. As for the attire, the cast might be wearing their own clothes, indicating that Margaret Hodes maintains the organic nature of the production with her costume design.
Stop Kiss is not difficult to watch, despite the fact that it contains some difficult themes and messages. Bad Habit Productions takes the subject matter seriously, but is able to find the light at the play's core and make it shine through the dark parts. BHP also seizes the opportunity to exhibit The Clothesline Project in partnership with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center during the Friday and Saturday night performances. Victims of violence decorate t-shirts to bring awareness to the epidemic of violence against women, as well as to express their strength and survival. The display will be hung in the rehearsal space next to the theatre one hour before and after the show. Stop in.
Photo: Scarlett Redmond, Lisa M. Smith