All it takes is one kiss; a moment that can forever change your life for better or for worse. Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions starts off their season with a very poignant and moving drama that delivers a powerful message even in today’s progressive society. Directed by Aly B. Ettman, Diana Son’s Stop Kiss is a deeply passionate drama about acceptance, self-discovery, and coping with life in the face of adversity. Ettman, along with an extremely talented cast, takes this well-known production and plucks out the finer nuances of Son’s writing, exposing brilliant moments of raw humanity to the audience.
The most impressive thing about this production from a technical standpoint is the fluidity of the play’s pacing. The scene changes create moments of pause in which each scene can be digested more thoroughly by the audience, as the play’s nature involves jumping back and forth in time. But they happen with a serenity woven into the pacing; it moves without feeling rushed. This is aided by Lighting Designer Peter Caress who projects a series of mellow lines, squiggles that could possibly be words, over the scene during quick changes. Caress makes sharp distinctions between the happier more positive times of the past occurrences by using warm familiar light colors that wash over the actors and the set. And then using stark harsh white tones tightly focused specifically on the actors or only a portion of the set for the colder more somber scenes that take place in the present time.
Director Aly B. Ettman unearths the rich characters built into this play with her casting choices. Ettman transforms the roles of Detective Cole, George, even in a sense Sara to be something deeper than what is implied in their texts. The cast has a well-oiled chemistry, allowing them to move through the heavier scenes with ease and emotional integrity. The performance never feels as if the actors are grasping at straws to make the audience relate to what they are experiencing. Everything feels natural; organic in a sense and falls perfectly into place with the pacing and progression of the story, which is difficult to do in a play that jumps so hastily back and forth between the past and the present.
Playing the role of Detective Cole is Dexter Hamlett. The character of the detective is minor and seemingly a plot device, but in this particularly production he felt essential to the story. Hamlett, with Ettman’s guidance, morphed this character into a gritty, abrasive man who badgered the truth out of Callie during the interrogation scenes. With Hamlett’s emphasis on particular words and the way he carried himself physically, it translated that the detective was attempting to make Callie responsible for the attack, no longer the victim. This is a shocking way to view the character and really pulls additional feelings of sympathy out for Callie.
George (Dan Guy) and Peter (Robert Kittler) are the two other male figures in the production, again both appearing briefly in scenes throughout the show. Guy, as the “on-again-off-again” romantic interest of Callie, presents the character in such a fashion that we’re immediately tempted to dislike him. Playing the stereotype of a guy who is a jerk, Guy has an emotional outburst that on the surface just looks like anger and furious frustration, but he carefully articulates between the lines to express his deep concern for Sara. Kittler, as the ex-fiancee of Sara has a similar moment – though his outburst is much more clearly concern and guilt though tempered with that enraged edge of fury.
The play is carried and driven by Sara (Alyssa Sanders) and Callie (Rebecca Ellis), and the intimacy of their fast-growing friendship. Sanders and Ellis have a very natural conversational response to their partnership on stage. Right from the opening scene during their introductory conversation they feel like two people honestly getting to know one another. Both have a grounded ‘down-to-earth’ presence on the stage and manage to keep themselves focused and active in every moment as they experience it. The chemistry between the pair feels equally natural; slowly building with little gestures and stolen glances into something glorious that bursts like a shooting star by the end of the show.
Sanders, who once the hospital bed scenes take place, is carried into and out of the bed, solidifying the reality of what has happened to her; this is difficult to watch not only because it is harrowing but because it drives the severity of the incident home to those watching. The moment of the major fight leaves Sanders blasting emotional truths while Ellis desperately grapples with her emotions; a rather intense moment between the pair. Sanders has a smattering of funny lines that keep the lighter moments as a refreshing game changer amid all the darker themes in the show, largely because she has such a crisp delivery of them, showcasing her understanding of comic timing.
Ellis takes the audience on a roller coaster of an emotional journey with her. The first interrogation scene with the cop is rigid and intense; she looks truly terrified, and suddenly becomes very introverted as if it is physically agonizing for her to relive this moment. Ellis’ ability to switch back and forth from the harsh slap of a cold uncaring world to the warmth and sanctuary provided inside the walls of her apartment is impressive, making the character rich and dynamic.
Stop Kiss is a brilliantly moving piece of theatre, performed by two really impressive actresses and a terrific supporting cast. It’s well worth investigating this fall season.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
Stop Kiss plays through September 29, 2013 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Production performing at Theatre on the Run— 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door, advance online.