Ron May’s Stray Cat Theatre is finally showing signs of receiving the deserved type of appreciation that has been afforded to other local alternative companies. No, the press is not covering them as much as they should, but they’re getting the equally important positive word of mouth. The opening Saturday night of their latest amazing production, Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, was a full house. While there were a few local theatre luminaries in the audience, the crowd was mostly made up of people I had never seen before. They were treated to a show chronicling the first blush of Sapphic love and its horrifying repercussions in today’s closed-minded society. They responded warmly, appreciatively. Director Marcos Voss has brought together a strong cast that runs and flutters and lopes, ultra realistically addressing issues avoided by most theatres in town.
Two ostensibly straight women meet in Manhattan; Radio Traffic Reporter Callie (Beth Froehlich) and freshly scrubbed Midwest-fleeing schoolteacher Sara (Alette Valencia). They uneasily dance around the fact that they are falling in love to the dismay of Callie’s fuck-buddy George (Tim Ebright) and Sara’s nebbishy ex in St. Louis Peter (Ron May). The script episodically moves simultaneously through two timelines: Callie and Sara’s initial meeting, befriending, and the rising realization that they are in love with each other, and the time following their passionate moment of admission when Sara and Callie are savagely attacked.
Voss keeps the show on its feet and moving briskly through the events. He has asked his actors to make this as realistic as possible in terms of communication. Froehlich and Valencia initially trip over each other’s lines in a wonderful embodiment of the growing feelings of a crush. They fumble and blush and bond beautifully. Froehlich is our touchstone. She is the central character into whose life this unexpected development tumbles. She is endearing, frenetic, and utterly empathetic. Valencia’s sweetness belies Sara’s discovering who she is and what she wants, seemingly innocent but wise enough to let Callie stumble into the discovery of her own feelings with only subtle, insistent nudges. The two together are beyond loveable. Froehlich’s performance in the alternating dark scenes solidifies her connection with the audience as Callie grapples with comprehending who she is, what she wants, and what she must do to get it. Her ability to balance each set of scenes is remarkable.
Ebright is a pleasant sort as George. He isn’t a strong presence, but that is a good choice of his and Voss’; George is an aging GenX’er drifting without purpose, using his penis as a rudder, and Ebright expertly brings this across. May is becoming the king of the dislikable everyman. He brings a stuttering and halting life to Peter’s matter-of-fact cruelty, offhanded ignorance, and willful tunnel vision. In their smaller roles, Kirstie Rylon as the good Samaritan who saves Callie and Sara and the nurse who tends to their wounds adapts well to the slice-of-life feel Voss has bestowed on the piece. Tom Koelbel’s investigating Detective Cole is not quite as naturalistic as the others, but avoids trampling the peace, particularly in his confession-coaxing scene.
Alicia Marie Turvin’s set devises a clever way of dealing with a script that asks for three very specific and not very connectable spaces through the use of platforms, curtains, and interlinking red and white colored bricks that help to connect all of the playing spaces. Randy Braunm’s lighting tends toward the dark at some points, but is effective in most scenes. Justin DeRo’s costumes are strong creations that set character well, though the choice of George’s leather jacket when first seen sent me on a wild goose chase of a red herring after hearing of a suspect’s description. Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker’s sound design adds some nice affects and appropriate music during each transitional scene change.
I have often bemoaned the peculiar lacking of viable dedicated Gay and Lesbian theatre companies in a maturing arts community such as ours. The audience is there, and now companies such as Stray Cat are embracing them. This is a group that should be given every bit of support possible beyond the excellent word of mouth. Here’s hoping they get it soon.