Review: Stop Kiss

As undoubtedly Vancouver’s hardest working actors on stage right now, the cast of Secretly Women Productions’ Stop Kiss not only serve up a powerful and shockingly relevant piece but do so in the tiny confines of the Havana Theatre, on a shoe-string budget and no guarantees of even being paid for their efforts.

And that is the real crime here as this is one show that queer and straight audiences alike should be flocking to see. Not only because of the relevance to recent gay-bashings in Vancouver but because Director David C Jones has managed to illicit such incredible performances from his actors under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Callie (Missy Cross), a traffic reporter, meets Sara (Joey Bothwell) who has recently moved to New York City from St. Louis and is now teaching, much to the horror of her family, in The Bronx. The two quickly become friends and as they spend more time together this friendship blossoms to a romance that results in a gay-bashing putting Sara into hospital.

Playwright Diana Son cleverly moves us through the developing relationship and the aftermath of Sara’s beating in alternating scenes. Scene one is the introduction of Callie and Sara, scene two sees Sara in the hospital. As we move back and forth between the relationship story and the hospital, Son gradually reveals the events leading up to the gay-bashing.

Stop Kiss
Joey Bothwell and Missy Cross star in the Secretly Women Production of Stop Kiss

Both Cross and Bothwell easily embody their characters. Cross as the jaded New Yorker questioning her attraction to another woman and Bothwell’s wide-eyed enthusiasm to her new life are both spot on. After the accident Bothwell plays a physically and mentally broken Sara and where these scenes could easily have floundered, Bothwell shows great restraint and the final scene with Callie and Sara in the hospital did illicit a misting of the eyes.

While Cross and Bothwell are the definite stars of the show, they are also supported by a group of equally fine actors in smaller roles. In a conscious effort to reflect the diversity of Vancouver, Director Jones has cast Nelson Wong as Detective Cole, Hamza Adam as Peter and Marci T House playing double-duty as Mrs Winsley and Nurse.

All three do a great job with their short stage time although Ms House is the definite stand-out here providing two very distinct characters in the fussy Mrs Winsley and the hip-hop swagger of a black nurse in New York. Finally, Michael Denis as George, Callie’s fuck-buddy, does a very believable job of the “friend with benefits” with just the right balance between the jealousy towards Callie’s new relationship and his own desire to only get what he needs from Callie.

As mentioned in the opening, this cast not only must perform but also must also do double-duty as stage hands clearing the sets and particularly in the case of Callie, make numerous, insanely short costume changes as she moves from scene to scene.

When Director Jones introduced the show on opening night he called it a “labour of love” and throughout its 90+ minute runtime you know the actors have connected to both the material and their characters at a very deep level.

Were it not for the limitations of the Havana one could imagine a flow between the few distinct settings on stage as the actors cross from scene to scene. But despite this production’s space limitations, the impact of the story does not suffer and in fact the intimate nature propels the audience inside the world of these characters.

Playwright Diana Son has provided Stop Kiss with a certain screenplay quality that at first is a bit off-putting as it seems more suited for television than on the stage. Fortunately though, the passion for the material makes up for this small quibble and the cast quickly draws the audience into the world of Callie and Sara.

Stop Kiss continues at the Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive through May 2nd. Tickets are $20 and are available by calling 604.630.9051 or at the door.

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