Stop Kiss

Despite the best efforts of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Nation to mislead us otherwise, it is clear that a combination of unauditable electronic voting machines, voting roll purges, and other concerted efforts aimed at the systematic disenfranchisement of Americans has, to a greater degree than ever before, delivered us into the hands of a criminal minority that represents only the interests of those who control the largest concentrations of capital on the planet.

But even if much of the results of the election are not to be trusted, it is still noteworthy that the sentiments of many pseudo-Christians in conjunction with these banana republic tactics have produced new laws in 11 states that prohibit same sex marriage. In case you're looking for any recent historical examples of a corporate state (i.e., fascism) wallowing in such bigotry, the goings on in Nazi Germany, from the staged burning of the Reichstag to the roundup of minorities into concentration camps, strike a frightful, detailed parallel to the behind-the-scenes details surrounding 9-11 and the present climate of intolerance.

In times like these, when 99% of the so-called journalists, who peddle their words for the half-dozen conglomerates that own all the mass media in the United States, are either so lacking in education and insight or so compromised by their paychecks, that they are incapable or unwilling to offer any resistance to this satanic mix of insatiable materialism and irreligious psychosis, it falls upon artists to present a vision of what it means to be human.

And certainly, throughout the recent charade referred to as an "election" campaign, the local and national theatre community, along with a number of other grassroots organizations, rose to the occasion with productions and gatherings aimed at alerting and organizing an equally clueless population. They would have succeeded, too, in changing at least the tone of the empire, if only the actual votes had been counted. But alas, where the citizens of the Ukraine have the gumption to rise up against electoral terrorism, Americans do not.

Following the aforementioned well-orchestrated sham by media moguls of explaining away polls and exit polls and pre-programmed computers and hundreds of thousands of overvotes, and the capitulation of the "alternative" choice, a number of organizations have redoubled their efforts at alerting Americans to the hijacking of their country. Likewise, the theatre community must follow suit and not let up on the ruling junta, nor at presenting works that deal with important social issues.

So, it's a pleasure to see that the Theatre Group has chosen to revive its successful production of Stop Kiss, now running at the Phoenix Theatre, because it both challenges audiences that may have misguided preconceptions about human sexuality and because it entertains those who enjoy a tempest-tossed and touching love story.

Photo of (L to R) Scott McLean (George), Elgin Kelley (Sara), and Hilary Blair (Callie)
(L to R) Scott McLean (George),
Elgin Kelley (Sara), and Hilary Blair (Callie)
Photo: Theatre Group
The play begins conventionally enough, with Callie nervously attending to housekeeping details as she awaits an unknown visitor. When Sara arrives, we discover that Callie has agreed to take care of her cat while the Kansas transplant gets settled in New York.

Right away, though, we begin to see in this expertly crafted set-up why Diana Son's play was a hit off-Broadway, and why it has been profusely produced since: we get the facts quickly, the writing is lean and charged, and every scene ups the emotional stakes.

In addition, Son has created two very compelling and drastically different dramatic arcs: first, the growing attraction experienced by the women, both of whom are, more or less, involved in heterosexual relationships when they meet; and second, a violent gay-bashing incident that is intercut with the first-time lesbian romance.

This contrast, between the excitement of a new and somewhat forbidden love and the irrational bigotry that comes from a lethal combination of ignorant dogmatism and sexual insecurity, keeps the emotional intensity of the story at fever pitch.

Photo of (L to R) Hilary Blair (Callie) and Patty Mintz Figel (Mrs. Winsley)
(L to R) Hilary Blair (Callie)
and Patty Mintz Figel
(Mrs. Winsley)
Photo: Theatre Group
Hilary Blair, reprising the role of Callie from the 2000-2001 production, introduces new wrinkles into the role as the savvy New York helicopter-borne traffic reporter, allowing her attraction to Sara to creep up on her as she disengages emotionally from her long-time, on-again, off-again, lover, George. The excitement is palpable as the two women approach their moment of truth.

As the tension builds, Blair's performances in two critical scenes, both involving interrogations from the officer investigating the attack, are stunning, delivering, first, a shocked and confused victim, then a painful recollection of the fateful events. Finally, Blair overcomes the dramatically effective but continuity-challenging time sequencing of the scenes to reveal a convincing, gradual realization of what she must do for Callie.

Elgin Kelley delivers a quixotic and sweet performance as the gee whiz Midwesterner, Sara, who finds everything in the big city exciting—from Thai food to film crews—even to the point of overlooking the real dangers, like looking people in the eye on the subway and talking to irate strangers.

Showing off her strengths at both extremes of the tragi-comic spectrum—an almost Chaplinesque quirkiness in making a bed and taking off her bra; then a heart-wrenching portrait of a physically-shattered assault victim—Kelley delivers a Sara who draws our attention both on stage and by her absence.

Photo of (L to R) Elgin Kelley (Sara) and Josh Hartwell (Peter)
(L to R) Elgin Kelley (Sara)
and Josh Hartwell (Peter)
Photo: Theatre Group
Scott McLean is a breezy, loyal George, whose adjustments to Callie's 180° turnabout are a marvel in emotional sleight-of-hand; Terry Ann Watts, as Detective Cole, conducts a series of interrogations worthy of Joe Friday; Josh Hartwell is witheringly repellant as the possessive and arrogant ex-boyfriend, Peter; and Patty Mintz Figel lends authentic flavor as the pragmatic nurse and the city-hardened witness, Mrs. Winsley.

Revisiting Stop Kiss almost exactly four years from the first production that followed the coup of 2000, and coming on the heels of a significantly more corrupt and bigoted outpouring, Director Billie McBride has not only given us a dramatically engaging production that exceeds the successful original, but has answered the morally depraved right-wing agenda in no uncertain terms by laying bare the hatred at the root of their pseudo-religious initiatives, and offering a picture of love and compassion to which the self-righteous only pretend to ascribe.

The Theatre Groups production of Stop Kiss runs through January 15th at the Phoenix Theatre. 303-777-3292.

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