The fast-paced heart-wrenching drama of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss comes to the stage at Fells Point Corner Theatre to kick off their 2012/2013 season. Directed by Jay Gilman, the story revolves around the high-strung New York City aerial traffic reporter Callie and the laid back but ambitious St. Louis school teacher Sara. Their lives intertwine in a series of scenes that flip back and forth between before and the aftermath of a violent attack that change their lives forever. This stunning and provocative drama tackles the issues of lifestyle changes and bullying as well as the timeless notion of forbidden love.
There is a decorative dissonance on the stage for this particular production. Scenic Designer Jim Knipple creates both amazing things and confusing things for this simple urban setting. A giant brick wall, covered largely in graffiti is the backdrop for Callie’s apartment. Knipple’s intentions of using the graffiti covered wall for the street scene – which happens only once at the end of the show – are clear, but using this wall as the main stage for the apartment is not. It is out of character for Callie to have such a mess in her apartment, and this could have easily been dismissed as poor staging had the technical team not gone to such great lengths to have other elaborate scenic devices, like interrogation lights that lowered in from the ceiling, to assist in transforming the space for other scenes. It’s already implied that the street scene takes place in a dodgy neighborhood and the graffiti was seems gratuitous and otherwise out of place.
Costume Designer Maggie Masson is left with little to claim credit to as the two main characters almost never change their outfits. This is a poor choice on Director Jay Gilman’s behalf as an entire scene midway through the show revolves around their wardrobe choices. In the scene Callie is supposed to be dressed to the hilt to attend an awards ceremony but is wearing the same basic pants and blouse as she is in every scene. This scene culminates a huge pivitol moment in the play as the two characters build an argument around who is overdressed and underdressed but as Gilman never institutes a costume change the scene falls to despair and seems pointless.
Gilman makes further poor choices in his blocking of the show. The crucial moment of the show in the final scene is completely cut off from the audience as Sara is seated with her back to the audience. All of the emotions and feelings that would be built into her facial expressions and body language are completely deprived from the audience who up to that point has been desperately waiting to see how this show will resolve itself. The profound payoff is denied to an audience who sat captivated up until that moment.
The pacing of the show is jumbled at best. Certain scenes run particularly fluid, flowing seamlessly one into the next, while other scenes have long gaping pauses between them where a spotlight shines aimlessly on various areas of the stage. If this was for artistic purposes the intent is unclear. Several of the scenes that flow into one another end up muddled because characters from previous scenes linger while changing out scenery or simply because they haven’t moved away from the space they previously occupied. This was both distracting and a disappointment to the work of Diana Son.
However, the production finds its redeeming qualities in the acting. Both Ann Turiano as Callie and Samrawit Belai as Sara are profoundly talented women who give vibrant depth and dynamic dimensions to their characters, letting them delve deep into the psychological notions of women experiencing what they are experiencing.
Turiano carries a buzzing nervous energy about her. She simply cannot sit still, constantly pacing around the apartment, even leaping up and down in her chair when she first encounters Sara. Her character mellows into a level of easy comfort with Sara as the production continues and so does Turiano’s physicality. She is gripping and compelling in her interrogation scenes with Detective Cole (James Miller) with nervous anxieties as well as harrowing confessions.
Belai crafts a believable character out of Sara. She allows the audience to come deep into her character’s psyche, taking every moment to thoroughly enjoy why she’s moved from the laid back town outside of St. Louis to the big bustling city. Belai has a strong but subdued energy that flows through her character, creating the perfect foil for Turiano. Together these women power through a stunning series of emotional events, though many of these moments are absorbed by poor blocking choices.
And keep your eye out for George (Christopher Jones). While just a minor character, Jones lets everyone know he’s there. From the way he flops on the couch and lounges about you can tell instantly that he’s a womanizer. He exudes that sleazy charm and crafty elegance of a man who knows how to get who he wants in bed when he wants them. Jones also shows a deeply compassionate side to his character when practically beating down the door to see if Callie is alright after hearing about the attack on the news.
The show should be seen so that the hard work of these actors is not for naught. Despite the directional and scenic flaws the production does hold its own merit on the raw talent that the performers provide.
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission.