Diana Son’s Stop Kiss is a beautifully awkward play revolving around a friendship that gradually evolves into love, bringing the issue of the stigmatization of same-sex attraction to the forefront. It is the fifth show of Live Five’s 10th season and is produced by Embrace Theatre at The Refinery.
Now living in New York City, Sara (Angela Kemp) has recently moved from St. Louis to teach elementary school in the Bronx and meets Callie (Jenna-Lee Hyde) through a friend of a friend. Callie has been in New York for 11 years and works as a traffic reporter. Both actresses are University of Saskatchewan drama department alumni.
The two are brought together as Sara seeks out an animal-friendly apartment and Callie happens to own one. Their friendship quickly grows when Callie encourages Sara visit her pet anytime and teaches her the ways of life in the big city.
Taking place in Callie’s apartment, the play works on alternating storylines where the budding friendship and love of Callie and Sara is starkly contrasted with the scenes following a terrible attack on the two outside the apartment.
Audience members undergo extreme emotional shifts as one scene will have the two friends sharing a bottle of wine and laughing while the next scene will shift to Callie being forced to retell how the two women were assaulted by a man in the park. The actors are able to transition from friendly conversation to tears of frustration and anger in the short time it takes to change the scene setting.
The play shows the two women pursuing a type of love that neither have ever experienced. The fear of losing a friend if the feelings aren’t reciprocated and the lingering stigma surrounding same-sex relationships creates tension between the two women.
The stress in their situation increases as both have past lovers appear in the play. George (Jaron Francis) is Callie’s recurring casual hook-up of many years who simply sees her as a convenient fall-back option when needed. Peter (Chris Donlevy) is Sara’s ex-boyfriend and the main reason for her fleeing St. Louis to start fresh. He arrives in New York after the assault and blames Callie for Sara’s injuries.
Stop Kiss deals with its difficult subject matter in an honest and straight-forward manner. Sara and Callie are blamed for the attack on the basis that they are two beautiful women who shouldn’t have been in a park at night. This victim blaming is described as “gay-bashing” and occurs throughout the play. Instead of focusing on the horrific attack that leaves the two women traumatized, people seem more fixated on asking why they were out so late.
The set of Stop Kiss is designed for fast transitions between several locations, including Callie’s apartment, a doctor’s office, an interrogation room, a coffee shop and a park. By using multi-purpose props, adjustable walls, a curtain and practiced teamwork, the scene changes are both efficient and believable. These smooth transformations make for a life-like and unified viewing experience that deeply invests the audience in the storyline.
Following the play are discussions with members of various Saskatoon-based groups on how the subject matter of Stop Kiss can be applied to social issues in Saskatoon. Members from the Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, the YWCA Crisis Shelter and Residence, the U of S Students’ Union pride and women’s centres will be presented for these discussions.
Tickets are $18.50 and can be purchased through Live Five’s website or by calling (306) 653-5191. Stop Kiss runs from March 27 to 30 and April 3 to 6. The audience is encouraged to stay for the discussion.
Photo: Brad Proudlove