A KISS CAN BE either the most innocent or the most intimate of moments between two people, a moment filled with ambiguity or complete certainty. It's this central dichotomy of an everyday but extraordinary act that Diana Son's outstanding new play Stop Kiss examines, an act that has consequences far past what either of its participants could have dreamed.
Seattle Repertory Theater till March 5
Callie (Amy Cronise) and Sara (Jodi Somers) meet through a tangential network of acquaintances and a cat that Sara deeds to Callie because her new apartment doesn't allow pets. It's a typical New York meeting, and in many ways Callie is a typical New York woman, an adrenaline junkie whose job as a traffic reporter literally depends on the chaotic lifeblood of the city. But while Callie admits she's without plan or ambition, the unglamorous Sara is a woman with a mission; she's come from suburban Missouri to teach at the Bronx's notoriously dangerous P.S. 32 because she wants to make a difference.
It's an unlikely friendship, but one we understand early on will have tremendous repercussions for both women. The play's chronology jumps back and forth between their gradually deepening relationship and the aftermath of a horrific beating that's traumatized Callie and put Sara into a coma. The cause of this violence is their first kiss, which happens at the right time but precisely the wrong place, in front of a homicidal homophobe in a city park.
It might seem impossible to imagine a subtle approach to the issue of gay-bashing, but that's precisely what Son's script aims for, and in the main it succeeds wonderfully. Both women consider themselves straight, with plenty of ex- and even current boyfriends in their histories. We see that their growing mutual attraction catches them both by surprise, and in a series of intimate and very funny scenes we watch them turn from bantering friendship to an unspoken search for something more.
Cronise's performance starts in such high gear it veers dangerously close to sitcom territory, but the rapid jump-cutting to the later scenes mellows her excess energy, while Somers is solidly believable throughout. Both Tamu Gray (as a witness to the assault and a hospital nurse) and David Scully as George (Callie's occasional boyfriend) are understated and subtle, as is Steven Dietz's directing. Perhaps the only fault of the evening is in two small parts for men, the detective investigating the case (Mike Regan) and Sara's ex-husband Peter (Alban Dennis). Both performances carry just a little too much obvious homophobia for a show that is more concerned with the manner in which conventional labels of gay and straight are polarizing and simplistic.
Despite the way in which the later scenes constantly undercut the light mood of the early romance, Stop Kiss is unexpectedly light and optimistic in its approach to its dire subject matter. Instead of ending in an image of intolerance, the final two scenes between the women, in the uncertain present and the perfect past, exhibit how accepting love into our lives can be a source of courage and freedom.