Above The Stag Theatre yet again provides us with a beautifully handled love story, whilst sensitively exploring societal issues that LGBTQ+ individuals face. Stop Kiss explores the simplicity of two women falling in love when it feels right, versus the social complications and challenges of a gay-bashing in 1990s New York City.
Callie and Sara’s relationship story was gradual, sweet, realistic, awkward and representational.
Diana Son’s beautifully tender writing came alive during this performance, with Suzanne Boreel (Callie) and Kara Taylor Alberts (Sara) having fantastic chemistry to execute well-paced dialogue, exceptional comedic timing, awkward lingering looks and a bumbling of words – all creating an incredibly realistic take on two young women falling in love. This was also a fantastic debut performance for Boreel, who captured Callie’s defensiveness and insecurities about the direction of her life. This contrast with Taylor Alberts emulating Sara’s fighting certainty left the audience hanging on every word and movement of the pair, no matter how subtle.
Ashley D. Gayle suited the dynamic of the two women perfectly as George, adopting the role of a supportive ally, despite not entirely understanding the situation. The remaining supporting cast were a little jarring to watch, which was incredibly effective. They only appear in the ‘after’ scenes and effectively add to Callie’s discomfort and confusion in the wake of what has happened.
The narrative is fresh and unique in that ‘before’ and ‘after’ are interwoven together throughout the play, as if to tell two stories simultaneously. Rather than leading up to the inevitable assault that is inflicted on the two women, the audience are instead led up to the moment at which they finally kiss for the first time. What could be a tragic story about a broken couple is a hopeful romance that builds as each character gets to learn more about each other before and after the incident.
Following this, Rafaella Marcus’ direction was sensitive and thoughtful, doing well to maintain the key focus on the growing love that the two women share. What is incredible about Stop Kiss is that it ignores the common trope of sexualisation that infringes upon many LGBTQ+ narratives. It is refreshing to see a lesbian-led story dealt with so tenderly, with Marcus putting focus on the truth of the story, through Callie and Sara’s words, rather than over-dramatizing events. Her direction allowed for each actor to use the small space incredibly well, highlighting their amazing dynamic even further and making the story feel real instead of forced.
Some scene transitions were clunky, but this was made up for in the obvious scene changes indicated by lighting. Designer Chris Withers uses a mixture of warm yellow lighting and a colder blue light to signify the change between a promising ‘before’ and a more sombre ‘after.’ The simplicity of the staging suited the theatre space well, which made each scene easier to change into. The sofa and various props strewn about matched Callie’s chaotic personality well, reflecting her warmth, yet uncertainty about what she is still doing in New York. This is balanced by Sara moving props around and attempting to tidy, as if to suggest that she is confident in her move to New York and knows exactly what she wants.
Callie and Sara’s relationship story was gradual, sweet, realistic, awkward and representational – exactly what Above The Stag are amazing for. They demonstrate again the importance of telling stories that are challenging to hear, whilst offering a reminder of hope.
Stop Kiss is set for a fantastic run.