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By APRIL M. VAN BUREN
You know that moment in a movie, a play, or a TV show where the sexual tension between the two main characters finally explodes in a tumult of fiery passion? The defining moment where a pair of lovers finally embrace and let their feelings take physical form? The quintessential “first kiss” scene? This typical romantic fanfare doesn’t find a place in the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Stop Kiss.”
Though the title might lead an audience to assume that the plot revolves around the moment when the main characters, Sara (Christina L. Elmore ’09) and Callie (Rachel E. Flynn ’09), finally share that tender moment, it is far from being the pivotal point of this personal and poignant script. The show—which will have three more performances this Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm in the Loeb Experimental Theater—instead focuses on the apprehension and complications involved with any unexpected romance.
“Stop Kiss” isn’t a story about “love at first sight.” The couple’s first meeting consists of Sara dropping off her cat, which Callie has agreed to take in. Callie, a veteran New Yorker, immediately takes to Sara, a schoolteacher from St. Louis, but the initial dynamic is one of friendship.
As Callie helps Sara adjust to life in New York, going out to restaurants and sharing laughs over beers, an undercurrent of sexual tension becomes evident. Both women, unsure and timid about the attraction they feel, avoid the topic and keep up the pretense of being “just friends.”
The script, which flips between two sets (Callie’s apartment and a hospital bed) and two distinct moments in time, shows the two ends of the story converging on the realization of their feelings. As the audience switches their attention from the first thrills of attraction to the aftermath of a violent crime, they become aware of the conflicting feelings the characters face when coming to terms with their relationship.
Callie’s apprehension is played out perfectly by Flynn. The character of Callie is a complete departure from the infamous Mrs. Lovett she played earlier this year in “Sweeney Todd,” and she showcases her range of ability with an excellent portrayal of everyday situations as well as the fantastical. Elmore also presents an ease with the stage that is especially hard to portray in such an intimate script. Because “Stop Kiss” doesn’t boast any theatrical pyrotechnics or thrilling plot twists, the task of drawing the audience in depends solely on the actor’s ability to connect with the audience’s emotions. A story which might drag under the influence of less talented actors remains engaging throughout. The leads’ performances are complemented by the rest of the cast. Jack Cutmore-Scott ’10, who plays George, Callie’s friend with benefits, adds an element of comedy to a play that can, at times, get heavy. Alison H. Rich ’09 also adds comic relief as Mrs. Winsley, a witness to the act of violence that changes the lives of Callie and Sara. While a few of the scenes in the hospital room lag, and detract from the ease of the rest of the show, the play mostly maintains a steady pace and keeps the audience wondering how everything will intertwine to complete the story.
The intimate style of the Loeb Experimental Theatre is appropriate for this personally engaging play. The set, designed by Kevin J. Davies ’10, consists of a sparse hospital room, an empty space filled with a single park bench, and an apartment with a large couch and cozy furnishings, and is symbolic of the two worlds that Callie and Sara are torn between. The comfortable, safe feeling of the apartment is a stark contrast to the bare, unknown hospital space. Separating the two is the park bench where Callie and Sara share their “stop kiss.” Throughout the play, the bench remains as a constant reminder of the gap between where the characters are and where their emotions are leading them.
“Stop Kiss” brings its audience on the journey of bridging that disconnect. It uses its story not as a statement about politics, but about overcoming doubts and letting love run its course unhindered by societal or personal expectations. The exceptional story and sincere performances are certain to leave their audiences deeply moved.
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