The K-State Theater production of Diana Son’s play “Stop Kiss” ran Oct. 24 through 27 in the cushy Purple Masque Theater (in the southwest end of Memorial Stadium). Directed by Teva Spencer, this laudable student production got as much as there was to get out of the script.
The story is told in two series of brief scenes, about 20 of them altogether. Sarah Traylor’s set included, fittingly, two halves of a scene-backing wall that rolled out to meet at the mid-point of the stage for every even-numbered scene. Then they rolled back to reveal the back wall of the apartment that was the home of most of the odd-numbered scenes.
What this notice calls the odd-numbered scenes were flashbacks to the beginning and growth of the friendship between NYC resident Callie (Brooke Griggs) and newcomer Sara (Kayla Lansing). The even numbers are about what happens after their acknowledgment of mutual physical attraction and after a physical attack by a third party that leaves Callie in a coma.
Back and forth we go. And every time or nearly every time the wall moves, the two principles have to change costumes. They managed these well and quickly. Logistics were one of the production’s strengths.
The acting was another. Griggs and Lansing took every opportunity the play gave them to make their characters into three dimensional people. Callie is unimpressed with her own work as a radio traffic reporter. She’s also a slob. “I often find things here,” Sara says, reaching under the sofa cushions in Callie’s apartment to come up with a plaque representing a broadcasting award.
Sara likes cats, is escaping a seven-year romance with Peter (Jonah Evarts) and their life in St. Louis, and has won a fellowship that has her teaching third grade in the Bronx — a financially blighted area. She is the idealist of the two. Callie is the one who “knows good restaurants.”
The dialog has them getting to know each other a little. But the two actresses are responsible for most of the suggestion of their awakening sexual interests. The introduction of Callie’s “friend with benefits” George (Nich Elliot) provides some embarrassment that helps the audience see what is going on in the young women’s minds.
The even-numbered scenes are, most of them, set in a hospital room at the north end of the set. The story’s main characters have only begun a romance, but we see Callie’s devotion to Sara expressed a little more and a little more. As Sara awakens and begins to recover, she will have to decide if she is ready to stay in New York with Callie or return to her parents’ Missouri home or to the place she used to share with Peter.
Then there are some scenes concerning the police investigation, carried on by Det. Cole (Jackson Wilks) with the help of the neighbor who called 911 when she saw the attack, Mrs. Winsley (Ariyanna Wheeles). The actors do their best to avoid the melodrama of their circumstances.
In the end, the production gives us the resolution suggested by the title “Stop Kiss.”
But the 1998 script refers to, and maybe even depends on, several assumptions the audience may not make. Was New York City a notably dangerous place that late? Are newcomers to the town usually innocents who need a mess of help to stand alone?
Is street violence directed at lesbians common? Callie and Sara have had their first kiss at 4 a.m. on a park bench in the area called Greenwich Village. When a man approaches and comments, the less worldly Callie uses an Anglo-Saxon term in telling him to leave off. Maybe this is why he thumps her — maybe he isn’t reacting to the public homosexual kissing.
Then, too, the script assumes we will somehow know immediately that the play’s central interest is in getting the two characters together as a mutually devoted couple. Thankfully, Griggs and Lansing are more expressive than is the dialog.
The supporting cast showed some skill. The costumes and lighting and the sound, sometimes problematic in the new Masque, all worked. And Spencer had everything well-rehearsed.
So the modestly interesting “Stop Kiss” got an admirable production here. Good show.