BWW Review: STOP KISS at New Mexico Actors Lab
A review of the original 1998 production of Diana Son's Stop Kiss refers to the play as a "small treasure" - not intended as a slight, but I think in reference to the beautifully, movingly simple nature of the script. I would use the same phrase to describe the New Mexico Actors Lab production (currently running at Teatro Paraguas) - the play is full of small, gorgeous moments that are masterfully directed and acted, creating a lovely and impactful evening of theatre.
Stop Kiss tells the story of two millennial type young women living in New York City (the play is just as relevant 20 years after its debut). The plot is fairly straightforward - the two (who we might reasonably assume identified as straight prior to the events of the play) become friends by happenstance and slowly, as their friendship develops, so does their attraction to each other. They share a kiss, which leads to a violent attack that lands one of the young women in the hospital and leads to the other becoming relatively widely known for her connection to the story. The play is nonlinear, deftly jumping from scenes after the attack to before - an engaging and efficient way to tell the story.
Barbara Hatch's direction is, in a word, phenomenal. She and her cast have created a truly sublime production, wonderfully balancing both comedic and heart wrenching moments. Both perfectly cast as the leading young women, Joey Beth Gilbert's Sarah and Tallis Rose's Callie have fantastic chemistry. The two balance each other, play off each other, and create a relationship the audience truly wants to succeed.
Equally good is Ms. Rose's chemistry with Vaughn Irving, who plays George, Callie's comfortable, casual, friend with benefits type guy. Mr. Irving did a great job making George genuinely likeable - the character could easily slip into sleazy jerk territory, but in this production, he was effortlessly charming and real. Filling out the company were two actors who took on multiple roles - Hania Stocker (playing both Sarah's ex boyfriend who comes to visit and a brusque detective - the latter being a particularly strong and nuanced performance of what could be, for a lesser actor, a one note role) and Ann Roylance (always delightful as both a woman who witnesses and helps stop the attack, and a kind nurse).
Supporting the performances is the standard wonderful NMAL technical design - Argos MacCallum's execution of the set design is flawless, and Skip Rapoport's lighting design brilliantly aided in creating the universe of the play.
It is sad that the subject matter of Stop Kiss in regards to LGBTQIA+ hate crimes is no less relevant than it was two decades ago; however, the play isn't just about that. Equally present is the idea of the transcendent power and beauty of love, and in that way, Stop Kiss is a powerful expression of hope.
Stop Kiss runs Thursday - Sundays through July 28th at Teatro Paraguas (3205 Calle Marie). For tickets, visit www.nmactorslab.com.