|photograph by Gez Xavier Mansfield
UNLIKELY Productions presents STOP KISS by Diana Son at atyp Wharf 4, Hickson Rd. Walsh Bay.
STOP KISS (1998), written by Diana Son is set in New York. The play is principally Callie's story (Olivia Stambouliah) and we watch her negotiate her identity, and, ultimately, her commitment to her humanity. She is a New Yorker working as a News Traffic Reporter for a television company. She has a boyfriend, George (Aaron Tsindos). Sara (Gabrielle Scawthorn), has recently moved to New York from St Louis, after a seven year relationship, her one and only, with Peter (Ben McIvor). Sara is an elementary school teacher in the Bronx. The two women meet and gradually find that they are attracted to each other. Neither is at all sure how to deal with this.
The play, chronologically, is, mostly, an observation of the tentative development of the relationship - it is gentle, funny and awkward. It leads to a kiss, a public kiss. The kiss is, unfortunately, observed and a violent attack is made on them both. One of them is injured, calamitously. The latter part of the play shows us the aftermath, the reaction of all, parents and friends, to the new circumstances of this barely bonded couple, as one of them has acquired disabilities, which may or may not be recovered from. On paper, then, the play can read like a television melodrama, and there is a sense of that, although, Ms Son has shuffled the scenes out of chronological order and we, the audience, know about the consequence of the kiss that should have been stopped, almost from the start of the play, which adds a poignancy and dramatic tension to the fragile encounters of the two young women.
Antony Skuse, as Director, has applied his usual open style production technique, on a bare stage, this time with the audience organised in traverse seating. All the actors are visible, all of the time. whether they are in the scene or not. They, then, are audience with us, and characters, and stage hands, shifting scene and supplying costume, set dressing, musical support: song and/or percussion. It is a fairly fluid design (Gez Xavier Mansfield) with a Lighting Design by Sara Swerksky, and Sound Design by Jed Silver (all three regular collaborators with Mr Skuse), with well choreographed, if sometimes too long, scene changes. This production plays for one hour forty minutes and could use an interval, just, if for no other reason, then to re-vitalise our concentration, in the humid space under the wharf at atyp on those difficult seating banks - it became a little of an endurance test, where objective physical discomfort fought with subjective needs of concentration on the play.
Mr Tsindos, McIvor and Robert Jago give class support, as does Kate Fraser, and especially Suzanne Pereira, both in her role as a supportive neighbour and as the singer to underscore the scene changes. Ms Scawthorne and Ms Stambouliah play the discovering of the mutual attraction with detailed and understated delicacies and lead us to a denouement of pathos that opens the play into an observation of more than a same sex romance blighted by homophobic violence, but too, to the embrace of the sacrifices we can make, when confronted with life's dilemmas, that make us truly human. Callie's journey is inspiring, if unenviable.
Ms Son is a Korean-American from Delaware, and has had a highly successful career in the theatre and television. She has also developed work with carers of the disabled in Los Angeles. Ms Song is not a lesbian, and is herself married with twins, and it is a testament to her talent that all the worlds and actions of the play have such logical and real persuasion, devoid of overt melodrama and sentimentality. Sandra Oh, a friend of Ms Son, was in the original production. I wondered the added effect it would have made to the play as an experience. Ms Son has said that she had not written race specific characters, but one wonders, the extra dimension it would have given the production of the play to have an Asian casting- it then would have crossed into multiple worlds of 'wonder' as in the New York production at the Public Theatre , one not often seen on our Sydney stages: same sex-issues, homophobia and violence, race (not discounting, thoughtlessly the backgound of Ms Stambouliah) and disability, all in the one experience!
Although the Mardi Gras has made this an Official Event, and that season is over, this is a play that goes beyond the purview of the expected audience.
P.S. After seeing STOP KISS, I made a point of catching BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013), its French title is THE LIFE OF ADELE - CHAPTERS 1 and 2 , winning the Palm d'Or in Cannes, directed by Abdellatif Kechide, which secured Best Actress Awards for Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. It tells the story of Adele discovering her pathway as a teenager into adult as a bi-sexual woman. There are some obvious and interesting parallels to STOP KISS.