Stop Kiss

By Philip Pearce

The Western Stage launched its annual summer 2 x 4 repertory of plays with its accent on youth Friday and a production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss.

It’s an interesting choice, less for its story than for the innovative way the writer has elected to tell it. Like many a movie romance, its climax is a kiss, but unlike those cinematic clinches this one sets off unimagined disasters in the lives of two twenty-something New York apartment dwellers and their respective boyfriends.

The script’s innovative surprise is that we learn, almost from the start, about the post-kiss catastrophe in a succession of scenes that are interspersed with the events that lead up to it. The youthful cast have the challenge of establishing the moods and tones of two consecutive but contrasting time periods.

By and large the two central females, television weather anchor Callie and her third grade teacher friend Sara, come off best. As Callie, Christina Spann has a perky assurance in the bubble and banter of the pre-kiss scenes. There are times when her comic timing is almost too brisk, notably in a short sequence involving a telephone and a cat, when her mood swings are so swift we have to rush to keep up. She’s really better as a dramatic actress, notably in two harrowing sessions where she’s grilled by Jesse Huston as a hard-hearted Manhattan detective investigating the brutal beating of her friend Sara. As Sara, Sam Betancourt is bright and idealistic before the catastrophe, after which she’s only required to lie hospitalized in a coma.

What offers major problems for any production of this script is that Son has chopped so much of the action into small fragments, usually establishing one single facet of some character relationship in about a page of script and then blacking out into yet another scene change. Director Nina Capriola has drilled her cast and crew in quick transitions, but the repeated shift and rumble of props and furniture in the dark often lasts longer than the intervening episodes, and the evening ends in a kind of scene-shift fatigue.

The play continues in repertory with No Es Un Play, directed by Carlos L. Cortez, and the Starving Artist Playwrights’ Festival, through August 17th.