Two women kiss on a deserted Manhattan street, and the consequences of that kiss change their lives forever. Diana Son's Stop Kiss burnishes a brief moment in the lives of ordinary people, making it memorable with smart dialogue and familiar personalities. And Stray Cat Theatre once again rises to the challenge of a tricky script to make Son's story all the more compelling.
Stop Kiss presents two time lines that play simultaneously, one in the present after two young women, Sara and Callie, have been attacked on a New York street; the other in the recent past, detailing how the women met and became friends. Son never revs up the drama or cruelty of the violent attack that informs every scene, relaxing us instead with gentle humor and a seriocomic story that's as much about New York City as it is about the hip young people who wander through it.
There's a subtlety to the sexual tension between the two women, neither of whom has had a same-sex romance before. It's a subtlety apparent in their posture, their glances, and in what they don't say to each other. But once they -- and we -- arrive at the kiss of the play's title, it's obvious that this isn't a "gay play" at all, but rather a restrained romance full of amusing, insightful commentary about the ways that people wind up in their lives.
Although on opening night the show's light and sound cues still needed smoothing out (and at one point the leads found themselves locked out of the apartment where their next scene was to take place, and a stagehand had to be fetched to let the actors in), the story is told in quick, vivid bursts of sound and color. Marcos D. Voss' sharp direction allows the principals to talk over one another, using casual language and stumbling through rooms the way that these awkward young adults should. And Alicia Marie Turvin's smart set design captures perfectly the cluttered, cramped walk-ups of a young New Yorker scraping by in one of the lower boroughs.
In the leads, Beth Froehlich and Alette Valencia are excellent; Valencia is especially engaging as a relentlessly cheerful grade school teacher adjusting to big-city life. Ron May provides some much-needed comedy as Sara's squirmy former beau, and newcomer Tim Ebright is a natural performer whose affable take on George, Callie's promiscuous pal, makes him more likable than he is in the script.
Although Sara and Callie's smooch contains the hope and promise of any new romance, it's not the happy ending kiss of an old Hollywood movie. But there's still pleasure in Son's morals tale, which strives for social commentary and winds up a love story all the same.