Stop Kiss Stops Short @ Sundown Collaborative

Some stage productions get directed, others just blocked. In the case of Diana Son’s 1998 comic drama Stop Kiss, now playing at Art Six in Denton, a project of Sundown Collaborative Theatre, it’s the latter. Produced Off-Broadway in 1998 at New York City’s The Public Theater to critical acclaim, the play weaves themes of coming of age, self-determination and sexual exploration into a flashback pastiche of sitcom style relationship exploration within an unusual backdrop of grim, violent anti-lesbian assault.

It would take a seasoned director with focused vision to synchronize this quirky work and its actors onto the clearly defined arc required to play well. Sundown Collaborative chose UNT senior Tiffany Hillan to direct; what results shows sincerity, energy and careful attention to blocking but lacks depth in portrayal, continuity and artistic vision.

The play unfolds as a relentlessly plodding chain of episodic moments in the lives of two young women on journeys of self-realization in New York City. Every scene necessitates a blackout and set change, as envisioned and directed, even scenes with only two or three lines. Much attention gets paid to the carrying on or removal of extraneous props (flowers, wine glasses, stray items of clothing, a cat carrier minus cat), none of which adds to the mood of the piece or character development, just clutters the show, slows the pace and interrupts potential imaginative continuity. In short, this Stop Kiss feels like a well-intentioned college project rather than a finished professional production.

Tashina Richardson and Danielle Trudeau are well cast as the two female leads and demonstrate on stage rapport. Yet some of their acting doesn’t make sense. As the play progresses and their characters’ mutual attraction grows, they repeatedly show discomfort around each other when changing a shirt or wearing sleeping attire (oversized t-shirt and panties). Does the play really call for that? These characters are modern gals well into their twenties. Surely they have seen lots of women changing in dressing rooms or gym classes; surely the swimsuits they have both worn since age 10 were “more revealing.” Yet, they both giggle, bat eyelashes and blush like coy 1920’s farm girls visiting a whorehouse any time either one of them shows a hint of “skin.” How many women, straight or lesbian, in their twenties today, carry on like that? Written oddly, or directed that way?

Nick Ross and Aaron Sanchez, as the two female leads’ lovers, exhibit some potential as actors; yet they present cardboard-like one-dimensional stereotypes of the “boorish, inconsiderate boyfriend” and the “clueless, well-intentioned boyfriend” in this realization. Both characters are confronted hard by rapidly shifting situations with women with whom they have long-standing relationships. I suspect, or hope, that the script allows the the characters more nuanced depth and emotional range than they get to demonstrate here.

Why see this production? The creative attempt is sincere, and these actors exhibit promise. The subject matter doesn’t get covered much by the local theatre scene. Support alternative theatre.

Sundown Collaborative Theatre’s Stop Kiss continues at Art Six Coffee House, 424 Bryan, in Denton, a different venue than originally advertised.

March 31 through April 3, 8pm.

Tickets: 214-729-0313, boxoffice@sundowntheatre.org

Why do I link to other reviews, frequently NY Times coverage, after my critiques? It provides contextual perspective, which always impacts regional theatre with plays that have former “lives.”

Ben Brantley on Stop Kiss in 1998:

http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?_r=1&html_title=&tols_title=STOP%20KISS%20%28PLAY%29&pdate=19981207&byline=By%20BEN%20BRANTLEY&id=1077011431566

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