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THEATER REVIEW Stop Kiss
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-01-21

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Playwright: Diana Son

At: Arc Theatre/Pride Films and Plays at the Pride Arts Buena, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: $30-$40. Runs through: Feb. 9

What could be more romantic than love at first sight, unless it's love poised on the verge of bloom, only to suffer calamity before its opportunity to blossom? Love that refuses to surrender, though! Love that stubbornly thrives, stunted but steadfast, to ultimately triumph over adversity—now that's romantic! It's no impediment, either, when the lovers are young, hip, relentlessly charming women whose affections reflect an indisputable social message.

Our protagonist is sleek, cosmopolitan New Yorker Callie, whose go-along-to-get-along attitude has not hindered her acquiring a degree from NYU, a job as a TV traffic newscaster and a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village—material gains mostly facilitated by other people's incentive. Our precipitator is Sara, a St. Louis native brimming with enthusiastic aspirations for making the world a better place, starting with a prized teaching position in a Bronx grade school. The two meet when Callie agrees to cat-sit for Sara, triggering an immediate mutual rapport. As their camaraderie gradually intensifies, however, we dread the moment—revealed by the playwright at the very outset—when a homophobic hate crime will threaten to destroy all potential for a future together.

A narrative structured in alternating time frames, its individual scenes flowing freely between flashbacks of happier times and a present fraught with foreboding, can make for cognitive delay while we struggle to locate ourselves in our dramatic universe, but an advantage to its fluidity is that the swift changes in mood never allow us to become bogged down in gloomy anticipation. On the contrary, the frequent reminders of Sara's propensity for nudging people out of their comfort zones and Callie's increasing willingness to embark on new experiences, are what sustain our hopes, much as they do those of the soulmates about whom we have come to care deeply.

This joint Arc Theatre/Pride Films & Plays production features a creative team helmed by director Kanome Jones with an assurance keeping the stage picture vibrant and engaging for every second of its 90-minute duration. Kylie Anderson and Flavia Pallozzi embody warmth and charisma to evoke an atmosphere of sunny nostalgia ( enhanced by the script's name-checking of its neighborhood landmarks ), while Joe Faifer and Shane Novoa Rhoades deftly skirt stereotype in their portrayals of assorted clueless males, as does Sheila Landahl in the role of a sympathetic elderly bystander.

Diana Son probably didn't suspect in 1998 that her play, set in up-to-the minute contemporary surroundings, would find itself, decades hence, rediscovered by new generations taking heart from its lessons in courage and constancy. Indeed, far from being irrelevant in light of the progress enjoyed today, fables of enduring love have not diminished with age, but may be more important than ever.


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