Stop Kiss is the first production programmed by Above the Stag’s new artistic director Andrew Beckett. Although written in 1998, Diana Son’s play, about a violent homophobic attack on two women for kissing in public, remains grimly topical today.
Callie, a traffic reporter drifting through life, meets Sara, an idealistic teacher from St Louis, when she moves to New York. On their first night out together, they kiss, and Sara is attacked, leaving her in a coma. The play intercuts scenes of Callie and Sara’s burgeoning relationship with the aftermath of the attack.
Rafaella Marcus’ production brings out the moments of humour in the writing. There is an exquisitely awkward and tender scene, in which Callie (Suzanne Boreel) and Sara (Kara Taylor Alberts) share a sofa bed, desperately trying to hide how attracted they are to one another. Anna Reid’s design for Callie’s messy apartment is evocative of the play’s 1990s setting.
The sound design and lighting inject a note of menace into the transitions between before and after the attack. Boreel carries the darker scenes, defying a homophobic police officer, and confronting Sara’s ex-boyfriend, who threatens to take her back to St Louis.
However, Son’s play feels clunky and outdated. Sara, supposedly in a coma, wanders around like a spectre in a hospital gown. Callie and Sara, neither of whom have had female partners before, are at the very start of a potential relationship when the attack happens – they are pushed into lesbian identity rather than actively claiming it for themselves.