Performed as part of Melbourne’s “Midsumma” festival, Stop Kiss is a love story. Traffic reporter Callie, a seasoned New Yorker, agrees to show school teacher Sara around the hectic city. A friendship forms, and although both women identify as straight, their attraction to one another is palpable. Finally, after a night out, Callie and Sara give in to their emotions. Their first kiss results in a savage gay bashing.
It is frustrating to have to include that in the synopsis. The success of Diana Son’s play lies in the simplicity of the love story at its centre. Stop Kiss is structured non-chronologically, presenting pieces of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ to tug the audience’s emotional responses towards the bittersweet end point. Yet the non linear nature impairs the story at parts too, particularly the awkward interactions with the police at the beginning, during which the dialogue feels more like stilted exposition than high stakes revelation. This is perhaps because the audience already knows what Callie is going to admit; she and Sara were kissing, and the attack was a result, hence the reluctance to include it in the synopsis. The production, however, markets itself around the event, as does the show, making it impossible to leave out of a review.
Cazz Bainbridge as Callie and Tamiah Bantum as Sara are both fantastic. The awkward tension between them is realistic, contrasting with the theatrical dialogue. Bainbridge embodies Callie’s surface level confidence and deep confusion so well that the character’s development overtakes the plot, turning Stop Kiss from a narrative political piece to a story driven by personal growth. The rotating stage and the three set designs complement the action and emotion of the scenes that take place within them.
There are still a few kinks and odd choices in the production. Often the stage rotates slightly too far, leaving a section of another set visible to one portion of the audience. Having the costume changes on stage is confusing, especially when an actor changes only for the stage to rotate. It would be better to let the audience see an empty stage than for the costume changes to be visible – it is distracting and pulls the viewer out of the story. Stop Kiss goes for two hours with no interval.
Minor complaints aside, Stop Kiss is a heartwarming play that is to be both funny and sorrowful. It effectively couches its political punch in personal narrative, and it only makes the story more powerful.
Stop Kiss is produced by Boutique Theatre and is currently showing at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute on Sydney Road as part of Midsumma Festival. It runs from January 22 to February 7. Tickets cost $28 or $25 concession and are available on the website.