By Sophie Steinberg
As the lights brighten inside the Black Box, the audience is not in a high school anymore–we are in an West Village apartment in the 1990s. We watch, holding our breath, as two young women come to terms with their identities and the hateful world that they live in. Diana Son’s Stop Kiss was performed two weeks ago in Beacon’s Black Box theatre. Jo Ann Cimato, the head of Beacon’s drama program, directed the three performances with a small cast of B’DAT actors in a tender production about two women who fall in love without even realizing that they are gay.
Initially, the fall B’DAT production was set to be Romeo and Juliet, but with a transgender Romeo. While the concept was unique, B’DAT was faced with a low turnout for auditions and concern about a cis actor playing a trans Romeo. Ultimately, the staff decided to change directions. Cimato and her production team searched for an equally bold idea. “We were faced with a very short deadline and we had to get the show up early,” Cimato recalls. In her director’s note for Stop Kiss, she describes the importance of producing a “gay play” after a student mentioned her reluctance to do a show with an LGBTQ storyline. “He didn’t so much as say ‘You’re closeted’ but he did say you don’t really do anything about it.”
Stop Kiss is drastically different from B’DAT’s last production “Lysistrata Jones,” which was an upbeat musical in a high school setting. The smaller stage and realistic tone of Stop Kiss helped make the experience more intimate, while the juxtaposition of the two key settings in the play–the apartment and the Hospital–helped to clarify the time jumps and ease the transitions. This choice allowed the ensemble to move fluidly throughout the set and quickly shift the focuses of the scenes.
The show begins with violence and ends with a kiss. The two leads, Callie (played by Emma Callahan) and Sara (played by Lucie Hopkins) meet in New York City. Sara is new in town and Callie offers to show her the ropes. As they spend more time together, their sexual tension grows and it becomes harder for them to hide their romantic feelings. Both Sara and Callie have trouble admitting their emotions as they withdraw from their respective heterosexual relationships. Each scene has high stakes with an emotional conflict dominating center stage. The lighting focused in on the characters speaking and alternative rock was played throughout each transition, which often served to highlight a change in Callie’s attitude and contributed to the mood of the scene.
The play’s leads were spectacular and made the story exceedingly believable. In particular, Emma Callahan rose to the occasion in this extremely challenging role. Her performance was complimented by Lucie Hopkins as their characters changed throughout play. Cimato describes both their performances as “breath-taking.” In his first time on the Beacon Stage, Shane Bray convincingly played George, a friend-with-benefits who is slow to process Callie’s sexuality.
This production showed that even in a hateful world, love thrives. The Beacon Community was ecstatic to see such a progressive play that features some of the most important issues in our country today. Despite the widespread homophobia of their time, the characters’ love takes precedent. Many embraced the production as we enter an unsettling period of American History under a new president-elect; Stop Kiss illustrates that love really can trump hate.