I always get to the Wells-Metz Theatre a little early because it’s open seating and the set ups inside are always different. Tuesday nights are usually a little thin. But when I got to the theatre for Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss,” the lobby looked like the waiting room of a small air line. A sign said that the show was sold out, and there was a tight little group of stand-bys waiting by the ticket window hoping for no-shows.
“Stop Kiss” is actually two plays. There’s the story of the meeting and the growing love between Callie, a New York City traffic reporter, and Sarah an idealistic young woman from St. Louis come to teach in the Bronx. Then there’s the story of the brutal attack that the two suffer and Sarah’s slow recovery. Playwright Diana Son says that she likes to involve, to make her audience work, and she intertwines the two stories scene by scene.
The play opens as Callie and Sarah meet for the first time in Callie’s apartment. Son has a nice feel for dialog and their talk has a purposefully clever and empty feel. In the second scene a distraught Callie is being hectored by a police detective, Chris Hatch, for details of a brutal attack that the two suffered when a man was upset by their kissing. “Stop Kiss” continues to alternate scene by scene. It could be almost mechanical, but the richness of detail and the depths that Son plumbs in her story along with tension of knowing where love will lead kept me very much involved for most of the two intermission less hours.
Lilia Vassileva as Callie is the center of “Stop Kiss.” She’s been in a kind of slacker spot since college. She has a boyfriend, played engagingly by Brian Bradshaw, and the do sleep together between affairs with others, and she does think they’ll eventually marry. Her job as a traffic reporter is well paying job, but it’s one that she just fell into and doesn’t take much pride in. Vassileva does a fine job with this complicated role. It’s because of Sarah’s care about a meaningful life and her teaching that Callie begins to change and then as she works through the long period of Sarah’s coma and rehabilitation that she grows. Kate Catherall simply glows as the shiny Sarah.
I do need to mention that Harry Watermeier does a very nice job as Peter, the boyfriend from home. Sarah has outgrown him and he knows it, but he does care and wants the best for her. Also Maddy King, as the sad busy body who called to cops and broke up the assault, played well as she reacted to shed more light on the women’s story. Bradley Wantz was a sympathetic figure as the nurse who volunteered to help Callie wash the comatose Sarah.
“Stop Kiss” is a deeply imagined and deeply dramatized play, but with the two stories and the quick changes, it could easily have dragged. That it doesn’t is a tribute to the cast and the director Bruce Burgun and the technical crew. Katie McDermott’s New York Apartment was always interesting. Christopher Wood’s lighting set and enriched the scenes. Thomas Oldham seemed always to find just the right music for backgrounds and interludes.
It all made for a fine evening of theatre.