Arresting performances and brilliant direction by Ed Lacson Jr makes Diana Son’s ‘Stop Kiss’ a necessary theatrical experience due to its heart wrenching interpretation of a story about two women who find love suddenly and a collision against the bitter truth that this world, and the society that informs on it, has never been kind to women and the lesbian community.
First staged in 1998, ‘Stop Kiss’ is about Callie, a traffic reporter in New York, whose life takes an unexpected turn when she meets and befriends Sara, who hails from St. Louis and is living in New York and alone for the first time and teaches 3rd Grade at a school in the Bronx. The play’s narrative is non-linear, shifting timelines in every scene, detailing Callie and Sara’s deepening relationship and the horrific events that play out after their first kiss.
The play’s presentation of its story pulls you in two directions. It opens with Callie and Sara’s first meeting, a genuine, honest-to-goodness meet-cute between the hard, almost jaded New Yorker and the wide-eyed girl from the less urban St. Louis. There’s magic there as Missy Maramara and Jenny Jamora, playing Callie and Sara respectively, maneuver this believably awkward but charming scene into a goldmine of possibilities. What begins as a simple transaction (Callie is adopting Sara’s cat as Sara moves to New York) turns into the promise of lovely friendship. As early as here, the chemistry is palpable, the possibilities are endless.
And then, the scene shifts through director Ed Lacson Jr’s use of a sliding panel that creates a cinematic transition giving you the feeling of a fade out or the turning of the page, and we move to the second scene that jumps forward into time and we discover that Callie and Sara has been attacked at the park and Sara is in critical condition in the hospital.
Throughout the entire play, the story shifts from past to present, from love story to repercussions of the hate crime, and the effect is dazzling and, in a good way, emotional torture. Lacson’s choice to design the set completely bare stage with minimal furniture and the backdrop painted in bright pink creates the feeling that this story is happening in either a dream or a nightmare. But the color choice also helps narrow the focus to the story of the two women, highlighting the message about their love story and the hate crime that befell them, for no other reason than being lesbians in a world where this is not universally accepted or understood.
Every aspect of this production feels well thought-out, from the pink oblivion where the story unfolds; from the conscious blocking of Maramara’s Callie, in constant motion as she flits from her bedroom to the front door, leaving an ongoing conversation and continuing it while shouting off-stage, which underscores her internal struggle; to Jamora’s quiet stillness in her portrayal of Sara, subverting the quiet, shy country mouse stereotype and exhibiting great strength in silence, embodying a different aspect of strength, the one that is not loud or explosive; the underhanded, unconscious acts of discrimination displayed by other characters like the detective (played by Robbie Guevarra) and Sara’s ex live-in partner, Peter (Gabe Mercado); to the wonderful performance of Tarek El Tayech as George, Callie’s friend with benefits, who exhibits true allyship in the discovery of the two women’s growing bond.
With all the amazing moving parts of this production working in synch, ‘Stop Kiss’ becomes this immensely moving piece about love and the many forces that goes against it because it doesn’t appear in the way that it is enforced by an outdated society. There is no question that what transpires between these two women is love. But there is also no doubt that the violence that is enacted upon them and the pressure to separate them after the attack is rooted in this old-fashioned, conservative idea that all relationships have to be heteronormative in form.
Lacson’s innovative use of the sliding panel ends up cutting the play into two halves, a love story and a story of a hate crime and the repercussions of discrimination, and it manages to isolate both narratives, pitting the feelings of charm and joy and love with the anger and frustration that comes with hearing stories about bigotry and hatred.
‘Stop Kiss’ is really essential viewing for this day and age. It doesn’t feel like a play that was written in the 90s and it really underscores the need for more material like this. This is the unbridled power that theater has over other art forms: it’s immediacy and ability to really strike true to the relevant matters at hand. Because this is something that needs to be addressed. Violence against women and the lesbian community still happens to this day and we need more plays and productions like this to emphasize how inhuman it is.
'Stop Kiss' presented by MusicArtes, Inc. + Space (Positive Space) and New Voice Company runs on July 19, 20, and 21, 2019, at Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Get your tickets online at ttps://www.ticket2me.net/e/2445/stop-kiss