BWW Review: STOP KISS at The Buena At The Pride Arts Center
When you live in a big city with vibrant, diverse neighborhoods, you tend to forget that there are still places where residents living out and openly can be threatened or harmed. That very safe and sound bubble is burst in Diana Son's powerful "Stop Kiss," an intense and intriguing look at one couple's love and trauma in New York City's West Village in the 1990s.
Co-produced by The Arc Theatre and Pride Films and Plays, this production has found two terrific actors for the beautifully written leads - the couple at the center of the story. Callie, (played with exquisite precision by Flavia Pallozzi), and Sara, (an endearing and empathetic turn by Kylie Anderson) fall harder for each with every interaction and moment they share. This arc is fascinatingly paralleled by the aftermath of their attack which, after a night on the town, follows their early morning hours' first kiss.
Under the steady and brisk direction of Kanomé Jones, this touching and disturbing story reminds us of a time not too long ago where tolerance was not what it is today. It also calls to mind the very harsh reality of incidents we hear of even now, where the LGBTQ community isn't always safe. The irony of the women's hesitation to romantically engage with each other is harshly contrasted with what happens when they finally give in to their desires. But as we witness in one of the most moving scenes toward the end of the play, love can still conquer all.
This well-crafted script blends in rich minor characters who enhance an already thoughtful narrative. There is stellar supporting work from Shelia Landahl in her dual roles as Mrs. Winsley/Nurse. Both Shane Noava Rhoades and Joe Faifer find genuine moments as the men involved with both women.
Sound designer Mike McShane relies heavily on songs from the late 1990s to open and close each scene. While mostly effective and a fun trip down memory lane for many of us in the audience, some of the transitions begin or trail off too quickly, occasionally taking us out of the moment.
Indeed "Stop Kiss" has a strong message. But at its core, it is a sincere love story with a fresh take on queer relationships. It is a story between two women who find what so many of us seek - someone to love us for who we are. And someone who both challenges and inspires us. With that intention at its heart, this production of "Stop Kiss" is an absolute success.
"Stop Kiss" runs at the Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago IL through February 9th. For tickets, go to pridefilmsandplays.com or call at 866-811-4111 or 773-857-0222.