A single woman stands silent amongst a backdrop of looming brick apartments and the oppressive soundtrack of New York city din. It is the aftermath of an unknown trauma, and there begins the play’s series of time jumping vignettes that tell the story of when Callie met Sara.
Well paced, funny, and littered with traffic jokes applicable to L.A., Diana Son’s GLADD Media award-winning Stop Kiss shows all the common ways that two people get to know each other. And yet there’s nothing common about it. Even when Callie and Sara are uncomfortable, it’s comfortable.
Even when they fight, their growing friendship is natural–and continues from the first date, to meeting each others friends, to the desire to share with someone who’d truly appreciate the accolades that occasionally come in life.
Angela Lin (“Wallflowers,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) as Callie and Sharon Leal (“Addicted,” “Dreamgirls”) as Sara both convey all the warm subtleties and excitement in the discovery of new love from a growing friendship, and their timing throughout is spot on. And as the mystery is revealed on the trauma inflicted by an act of hate, there is still light and laughter. And in the dark, there is guilt and fear, but there is also tenderness and hope.
“I think the brutality [described in the play] is realistic. I wanted people to know that that happened. And I wanted them to be affected,” said Son.
Son, a television writer and producer for shows including “Blue Bloods” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” hadn’t seen her play in ten years. As the breadwinner with a husband and three kids, Son makes the balance between L.A. and New York. Although her play writing had taken backseat for a period, she’s just finished working on the ABC series “American Crime” with show runner and writer John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave, which is due to televise in March of 2015. Son came to L.A. direct from New York for the Lavender Night Out benefit for the LGBTQ community held at Redwhite+bluezz on Thursday night. After returning to L.A. traffic, she reflected on the similarities between the cities reflected in the plays’ lighter moments.
“I do think there’s is a difference with a non-New York audience,” she said ”I did notice there is a lot of driving jokes in the play. I was never really so conscious of them before.”
Prior to the repeal of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, Son had been moved by an article in the 90s about a woman–an Army Colonel about to retire—who had had a long term relationship with a woman who later outed her. The army threatened to take her pension, putting her in a position to deny her identity within that same-sex relationship and her homosexuality in order to protect her financial status stemming from a 20-year career of service.
“I’ve always been attracted to stories that tested the two identities—the one you have of yourself and the one that other people have of you,” Son said. “I am always writing about identity. But also how you define yourself versus how others defines you, and I’ve always just collided with the outside perception of who I am and what I should based on the fact that I’m a girl. Or a woman. Or a Korean-American. Or whatever, you know. A writer.”
“The hate crime [in Stop Kiss] is an escalation of lesbian identity harassment,” said Seema Sueko, whose directorial debut at the Playhouse comes with Stop Kiss. She referenced the “I Hollaback” movement to end street harassment as an unfortunate reflection of the need for works like Stop Kiss.
During the run of Kiss Me Kate, an exiting audience member was heard to have said “I didn’t know this was a black show” about the casting which featured black leads and multiracial and diverse cast, according to a recent L.A. Times article.
“It’s in our [theater’s] DNA, our Founder– much like Sheldon [Epps]– valued and values inclusiveness, equity and diversity,” said Sueko. “We braced ourselves when we first announced our season…When statements like that are said…and people leave, then there’s not an opportunity to dialog and learn on all both sides from it,” said Sueko “So for Stop Kiss, we are wanting to be well prepared.”
Sueko credits community organizer Alison de la Cruz in offering advice on how to handle potentially negative comments or concerns about the show’s content, so Sueko is making herself available after each show in the Friendship Center of the Plaza for anyone who wishes to talk.
On the takeaway from the play, Sueko hopes the audience is more moved to reflect on their own love experiences when leaving the theater.
“I hope people remember their own favorite first kisses, and the kindling of their own favorite love. The joking. The dance as we do when a relationship is forming,” she said. “The anticipation. I hope the they feel that…I want folks to leave the theater feeling like they want to drive home with all their windows rolled down singing at the top of their lungs!”
Artistic Director Sheldon Epps reflects also on the timeliness of the play, which was written and takes place in 1998, and how hate crime and gay bashing is still unfortunately prevalent today.
“One would think there would be no reason to do this play anymore. That those kind of [violent] responses from haters would not exist anymore,” said Epps. “But sadly they still do, so the play is as pertinent and as timely as when it was written.”
“More than anything, despite the fact that it’s aided by an act of violence, it’s really a love story,” Epps added. “And it’s really about freeing yourself emotionally…allowing yourself to do something that may be frightening to you initially–frightening and attractive at the same time.”
Next for the Pasadena Playhouse is Sleeping Beauty and her Winter Knight for Panto at the Playhouse with Lucy Lawless (Spartacus, Xena: Warrior Princess), The Whipping Man, and Pygmalion.
Panelists Valerie Udeozor from PCC’s Nursing Department, along with hate crime survivors Ismael and Deena Ileto, will participate in “Talkback Tuesday: Rebuilding after the Hate” immediately after the show on Nov. 18. PCC counseling, LGBT Safe Zone, Queer Alliance, and Cross Cultural Programs will be in attendance. PCC has made 50 free tickets to “Stop Kiss” available for that night only and those interested can contact Udeozer at email@example.com.