‘Stop Kiss’

Theatre Intime offers a dynamite evening in the theater with this surprise off-Broadway hit from 1998.

By: Stuart Duncan
   Stop Kiss was a surprise off-Broadway hit in 1998. Subsequent productions in Seattle (Seattle Rep) and Washington (the Wooly Mammoth Theatre) confirmed that the play broke new ground and that its writer, Diana Son, was a talent to watch.
   Princeton’s undergraduate Theatre Intime seldom stages works this fresh, but Chris Wendell, who makes his directorial debut after sessions as actor, producer and "techie," has a clear vision, a strong cast and a hard-working stage crew. The result is a dynamite evening in the theater.
   Playwright Son introduces us to two young ladies in New York City from vastly different backgrounds. Callie is a traffic reporter who works from a helicopter; Sara is from St. Louis and has battled vigorously for a grant leading to a third-grade teacher’s job in the Bronx. We watch as their friendship slowly turns to affection and then to what might indeed be the beginnings of a romantic relationship. The thread is violently interrupted by an early-morning attack in the park that lands Sara in a deep coma in the hospital and Callie desperately trying to come to grips with responsibility.
   The play interweaves scenes of Sara and Callie in the latter’s apartment, complete with a couch that serves as her repository for discarded clothes and opens into a daybed; scenes in the hospital, under harsh lights, with Sara comatose; and scenes in the office of the detective assigned to the attack, trying to reach the truth. Time is jumbled, but it is no problem to define where we are or when.
   Playwright Son also introduces ex-boyfriends: Peter (Kris Kersey) who was discarded by Sara in St. Louis but now sees a way to get her back, and George (Micah Baskir in a most appealing performance, so casual that he almost steals several scenes), Callie’s sometime lover. Sal Butt appears as a male nurse; Bettina Adger has two brief scenes as an eyewitness to the savage attack and calls the police. Tim Jones is a believable detective.
   But it is Barbara Luse, as Callie, and Jean Su, as Sara, on whom the show rests. The former finds every crevice of Callie’s pysche, some with body language, others with her facial expressions, the rest with her voice. Her best moments come when she realizes that, for once, she will have to discard her passive approach to life and fight for the right to nurse her friend.
   Ms. Su has the easier task and is enormously appealing as the ebullient Midwesterner. One scene, in particular, shows both ladies at their heights. Callie has visited Sara’s third-grade class and is clearly embarrassed that the children were so excited by a job she considers beneath her skills. "They don’t have cars; I don’t have a car," she says. For her part, Sara tries to explain that the excitement comes from the helicopter.
   And, above all, we have Ms. Son’s writing, which has been compared to David Mamet writing an episode of Ally McBeal. It is a delicate story, never sensationalized, but straining to be heard. And, with Mr. Wendell’s intelligent staging, it will be.
Stop Kiss plays in the Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, Princeton, through April 6. Performances: Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 2, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12; students $6. For information, call (609) 258-1742. On the Web: www.theatre-intime.org