ATYP Studio, March 13
Diana Son’s gentle drama Stop Kiss was first staged in New York in 1998 at a time when homophobia and gay hate crimes were very much in the news.
Pivoting on a random act of violence perpetrated against two women, the production resonates freshly in Sydney given the current debate about alcohol fuelled violence and coward punches.
Callie (Olivia Stambouliah) is a stylish, breezy New Yorker who eats at all the right restaurants yet “swerves” through life avoiding commitment. She isn’t fulfilled by her job as a helicopter traffic reporter, while her boyfriend George is a more of a friend with benefits.
Sara (Gabrielle Scawthorn), on the other hand, who has just moved to the Big Apple from St Louis against the wishes of her family, has a quiet determination about her. Excited to be in New York, and comfortable in herself, she is idealistically committed to her job as a teacher at a disadvantaged school in the Bronx.
Their friendship begins awkwardly but gradually a mutual attraction between them blossoms into something more.
The play moves back and forth in time with scenes leading up to the violent act at its core, and its aftermath. Structured so that we slowly discover what happened at the same time as we watch their deepening relationship, it’s heartbreaking knowing what is coming as their love blossoms.
Directed by Anthony Skuse for Unlikely Productions (in association with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras), Skuse shows once again what a sensitive director he is. Staged on Gez Xavier Mansfield’s minimal set, the play unfolds with an unforced fluency that draws you in to the story. Skuse knows just when to add something (music, a song) and when to put the focus tightly on the actors. Where the play could become sentimental, he instead gives us unadorned, heartfelt truth.
Stambouliah and Scawthorn are both excellent, each creating entirely believable characters and mining the frissons, false starts, misunderstandings and tenderness in their relationship beautifully. The rapport between them fairly crackles and the outcome of their relationship strikes at the heart.
Aaron Tsindos and Ben McIvor are also impressive as the men in their lives.
Stop Kiss has a clear political message but delivers it gently, without didactic raging, in a sweet, funny, sad play – the subtlety of which is matched by Skuse’s production. Well worth a look.
Stop Kiss runs until March 22. Bookings: www.atyp.com.au or 02 9270 2400