Putting on a play is one complicated proposition. Think about how difficult it is to coordinate with a small handful of your friends for a Saturday night jaunt to Pearl Street or (gasp!) Denver and you immediately get the idea. A director must choose a play, and given the depth and breadth of theatrical material out there, that in and of itself can be a daunting task. A space must be found in which to perform. A cast must be selected. Rehearsals have to occur. Sets, wardrobe, lighting and sound need to be designed and created. Society’s ever-growing ambivalence to live theater must be faced head-on without trepidation.
When you think about it, it’s a wonder a play gets produced at all in the 21st century, and I applaud anyone who endeavors to bring one to life. That said, just as in baseball where a player can’t be expected to hit a home run every time he steps up to the plate, one can’t expect every play to take one’s breath away as it transcends its medium and provokes thought and feeling from every member of its audience.
Stop Kiss, the latest from the Equinox Theater Company, worked for me only in fits and starts. I connected with it periodically on an emotional level, but beyond that I found it oddly lifeless and unengaging. No one major flaw leapt out at me. Instead, a slew of small, seemingly minor issues combined to decidedly negative effect. In this case, the whole is very much less than the sum of its parts.
The play itself is the first stumbling block.
Homophobia and the expression of it in the vile act of gay-bashing sadly remains a relevant topic. But where a play like The Laramie Project handles the subject deftly while both challenging its audience and rewarding it, Stop Kiss finds itself with little more to say than, “Gay-bashing is bad.” (For the record, the absence of an exclamation point after “bad” in that last sentence is purposeful, as the play doesn’t even make its sole point with any real passion.)
Stop Kiss feels unfinished. It’s as if it needs to be work-shopped a few more times and tweaked in numerous ways. When I visited playwright Diana Son’s website to do some research, I found one photograph, less than a paragraph of information and a statement that it has been “under construction” since 2007. Coincidence? I think not.
Though the two leads, Soleil Lean as Callie and Laura Lounge as Sara, deliver solid performances — albeit it with a few opening-night line flubbings, the same may not be said of some of the supporting cast. Color me old fashioned, but I think a tough-as-nails New York City police detective should have at least the hint of a New York accent, and when a distraught ex-boyfriend breaks down at the bedside of his ex-girlfriend-in-a-coma, I want to believe his pain and maybe even see a few tears.
Though it lasts little more than 90 minutes, Stop Kiss is told in one act that feels overlong. Its structure purposefully jumps back and forth from Callie and Sara’s first meeting to the aftermath of the attack on them and culminates in the titular kiss. While this is a perfectly acceptable plot format — think Memento, among many other examples — here, it failed to work for me. The second scene occurs immediately post-attack and feels like the play is burying the lead, to use some journalistic jargon. This temporal hopscotch also hurts the development of the relationship between the women, the love story at the heart of the play, undermining it and making it feel somewhat artificial.
Perhaps with some retooling, Stop Kiss could become the play that it clearly wants to be. As it is, however, it suffers from an agglomeration of small faults that though separately innocuous are, en masse, fatal.
On the Bill
Stop Kiss plays at the Bug Theater, 3654 Navajo St., in Denver. Tickets are $12 to $15. For tickets or information, call 303-477-9984 or visit www.bugtheater.info.