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New York Review: `Stop Kiss’

This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 27, 1999.

All rights reserved.

A wonderful new Off-Broadway play poses a quite ordinary

question: can an unsettled and disorganized helicopter traffic reporter

from New York City can find romance and happiness in the big apple

with a totally together third grade school teacher in the Bronx? Thirty-three-year-old

playwright Diana Son provides the answer in "Stop Kiss," a

funny, poignant, horrifying, and finally inspiring urban play.

When the two young women, Callie (Jessica Hecht) and Sara (Sandra

Oh), first meet, they haven’t a clue that their acquaintance will

develop into a friendship or into anything more than platonic. The

relationship begins amusingly when Callie, who would hardly notice

a little more litter in her dreary untidy apartment (fastidiously

evoked by designer Narelle Sissons), agrees to care for Sara’s cat.

It seems that Caesar, the (unseen) cat, is an unwelcome party in the

only low rent apartment Sara, who has just arrived in New York on

a fellowship, can find.

In that Callie has George (Kevin Carroll), her casually on-demand

lover from college days, and Sara has/had Peter (Rick Holmes), a lover

she left behind in St. Louis, their initial meetings are punctuated

with glib and savvy patter about themselves and (what else) George

and Peter.

As flighty and unmotivated above ground as she is below, Callie, however,

puts plenty of enthusiasm into landing a reservation at the trendiest

restaurants. As uncompromising on matters of principle as she is eager

to start a new life and deepen their relationship, Sara is wonderfully

down to earth. It is in this context that Callie and Sara are seen

in cleverly concerted contrast.

It is to the playwright’s credit that we see the gentle tug of mutual

sexual attraction kept in check, and only through the subtlest of

body language and deliberately evasive and cautious chit-chat that

we see something decidedly romantic brewing.

The play’s title refers to the casualness and the spontaneity of an

act that would be accepted as normal between a man and woman, but

which in this play prompts an act of violence. The delight we take

as two people suddenly find their true identities takes a sudden tragic

turn. This, when Callie and Sara make a fateful and unwise decision

to stop on a park bench and kiss innocently after a night dancing

at a Village bar. At that dangerous hour, when most working people

are beginning to hear their alarm clocks go off, they are brutally

attacked and beaten by a psychopath.

The comical lightness of the scenes prior to the attack are strikingly

contrasted against the darker scenes that follow. The play makes a

stunning turn that is sure to fill and break your heart. Callie is

suddenly faced with a challenge that can only succeed through a demonstration

of unselfish love. This includes making a commitment and doing things

she would never have believed herself capable of.

Similarly Sara, whose life is more unalterably changed, is stirred

and comforted enough by her friend’s unselfish devotion, to set the

healing in motion. The vivid and delightfully idiosyncratic portrayals

by both Hecht and Oh are as impressive as they are award-worthy. Under

Jo Bonney’s excellent direction, all the performances, including that

of Saul Stein, as a no-nonsense detective, and Saundra McClain, who

doubles as a witness to the crime and a nurse, will also linger in

your mind. Loaded with laughter and tears, Stop Kiss is that rare

play that makes you consider all the things in your life that matter

most. HHHH

— Simon Saltzman

Stop Kiss, Shiva/Papp Public Theater, 425 Lafayette, 212-239-6200.

$30. Through February 21.

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