Stop Kiss

To its credit, Diana Son's 1998 Off-Broadway play defies easy categorization. The opening scene suggests a meet-cute setup in a lesbian romcom. Yet a subtle tension underlies the breezy banter. When the sweetness of budding romance takes a startling turn into violence and the play begins shifting back and forth between the tragedy's prelude and aftermath, Son's work becomes an inventive and thought-provoking glimpse at the rewards and sacrifices of emotional growth. Director Elina de Santos and Matthew Elkins' L.A.-premiere staging isn't entirely successful in navigating this work's tricky dramatic structure. Some scenes in the 90-minute play feel listless and disconnected. Yet richly evocative performances result in telling nuances and a compelling conclusion.

The setting is 1998 Manhattan. Callie (Deborah Puette) is woman without much direction in life. A radio traffic reporter, she has yet to realize her need for a committed romantic relationship, participating in a half-baked involvement with the amiable George (Christian Anderson), whom she says she will "probably" marry. Sara (Kristina Harrison) is an adventurous Midwestern schoolteacher who has accepted a fellowship at a Bronx elementary school, against the advice of her parents and her beau (Justin Okin) back home. When the rootless Callie and the risk-taking Sara discover their personalities mesh well, a spontaneous public kiss in the wee hours of the morning leads to a hate-crime attack on Sara. Yet far from being The Laramie Project redux, Stop Kiss is a multifaceted glimpse at the joys and sorrows of opening up one's heart and the capricious twists of fate that can make everything in life a gamble.

Puette, a resourceful and intelligent actor, does a superb job of illuminating Callie's human frailties and her redemptive sense of resilience. She expertly tunes in to the lifelike cadences of Son's dialogue, creating a well-rounded portrait. Harrison excels as the fun-loving and witty Kristina, whose likability makes the unforeseen calamity all the more poignant. Anderson and Okin offer solid support as the two boyfriends. In minor parts, Inger Tudor and Jeorge Watson do creditable work. Fine design work captures a gritty big-city ambiance.

Presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. July 9–Aug. 23. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. through July 26, then in repertory.
(323) 960-7774.