Playwright: Diana Son. At: The Cuckoo's Theater Project at Collaboraction Studios in Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 312-882-8201 or TheCuckoosTheaterProject.com; $20. Runs through: May 6
Stop Kiss was extremely timely at its 1998 off-Broadway debut. Diana Son's drama involving a lesbian-bashing incident opened not long after the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard became an international news story.
Stop Kiss was also notable at the time for its color-blind casting. Sandra Oh ( who co-starred on TV's Grey's Anatomy ) received rave reviews for playing Sara, a Midwestern-transplant elementary teacher who gradually falls for New York traffic reporter Callie ( Jessica Hecht ).
The Cuckoo's Theater Project's Chicago revival of Stop Kiss honors the play's colorblind casting history by pairing Winter Sherrod as Callie and Jackie Seijo as Sara. Director Angela Forshee also wisely keeps Stop Kiss in its late '90s time period, though there are other shifts in time that prove to be problematic.
It all has to do with Son's script. Scenes alternate between Callie and Sara's blossoming friendship and cautious romance, and the aftermath of a late-night bashing attack which leaves one of the women in a coma.
What events led Sara and Callie to completely reject their ex-boyfriends and turn to each other as a couple, and will the two women stick together after such a violent attack that outs them both so publicly in the media? As a plot device, this keeps audiences curious to find out happened and what will happen.
Yet logistically, Stop Kiss must be a quick-change costuming nightmare. The backstage choreography switching from costume designer Asha McAllister's dating apparel and hospital gowns didn't run so smoothly at the performance I attended, which meant for long prerecorded pop music interludes to cover the outfit changes.
I'm not sure if these offstage difficulties threw Seijo and Sherrod or not, but there seemed to be a missing romantic spark in their pre-attack scenes. Some more visible turmoil of characters holding themselves together in the post-attack scenes would also have been welcome.
The supporting cast is fine, which includes Marc James as the bullying Detective Cole and Kate Fitzgerald in the dual roles of Mrs. Winsley and a nurse. Nathan Wainwright is appropriately grating as Sara's ex-boyfriend, Peter, though some more New York toughness would have been welcome in David Towne's take on Callie's longtime hook-up buddy George.
Though there's room for improvement, The Cuckoo's Theater Project's Stop Kiss is largely on solid ground. And it's also good for Stop Kiss to be back in Chicago as a piece of LGBTQ theater history to revisit in these uncertain times.