Off the Wall Theatre in Washington, PA continues to justify its name and reputation by offering completely convincing performances in a thought-provoking, emotionally-laden, non-mainstream play. It’s Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, which, although it had a very short run off-Broadway in 1998, has acquired its own substantial reputation.
New York reviewers spoke of it as both comic and serious. But as ably and insightfully directed by Robyne Parrish, this production seems fundamentally serious. Considering the core of the story, that looks like a valid choice. Two young women, romantically kissing each other in pre-dawn hours in a Greenwich Village park, are brutally assaulted by an unknown man coming across them. One of the women, Sara, may never return to normal life. Newly arrived from St. Louis to teach in a Bronx public school she has become friends with Callie, a radio traffic reporter. They had been getting closer and closer before the attack. The play jumps back and forth between how the women’s relationship emerged and with the dreadful aftermath.
You might think, then, that this play focuses on lesbian love or gay bashing, but playwright Son doesn’t seem to aim for points about either issue, even though a bed at first looms on stage. The bed, indeed, does have meaning, but not what you’d assume. Rather Son writes more about the effects of random violence on two innocent, good people who had a relationship developing when it underwent changes out of their hands.
The script for one-act Stop Kiss meanders at times, especially at the beginning with trivial conversations about basic elements of New York City life. And, as the play progresses, neither Sara nor Callie seems particularly special or distinctive. Yet their very ordinariness may be the point; the longer we get to know them, the more believable they become, given that the play follows the emergence of their relationship and not much more. I think it works because Ericka Cuenca’s Callie comes across as a complete, multi-dimensional person while Theo Allyn’s take on the major role of pre-attack Sara has equal truth and appeal. I say “pre-attack” because Sara is seen pre-attack and post-attack on stage simultaneously. Allyn and Karen Baum alternate in those versions of the role.
Point Park U Theatre grad Matt Lamb plays Peter, Sara’s boyfriend from back home, with depth and sure dimension. The cast also includes F.J. Hartland, Linda Haston and Atom Pribila in supporting roles, all of them adding substance to the production. Plus singer Autumn Ayers provides vocal color between scenes. Oddly, despite evoking substantial reality from the cast, down to near nudity, director Parrish has made a puzzling choice of having some dialogue un-realistically played not face to face but rather face to audience, although it’s not narration. Even so, this does not harm the memorable effect of the entire experience.
Stop Kiss continues with Karen Baum as pre-attack Sara on Thursday and Saturday, December 16th and 18th while Theo Allyn has that major role Friday December 17th at Off the Wall Theatre, in Washington PA. Info and tickets at 724-873-3576 and InsideOfftheWall.com