Stop Kiss play tackles heavy themes in romantic plotline

The daring and original play Stop Kiss opened at Colby this weekend, showcasing an original plot and heartfelt acting. Produced by Colby’s student-run theater group Powder and Wig, Stop Kiss features an intimate cast led by Chelsea Regan ’17 and Kaylee Pomelow ’19, and directed by Kelsey Book ’18. Stop Kiss is the story of two New York women who meet, fall in love, and are subsequently attacked, causing one of them to fall into a coma. Told in a dual plotline alternating scenes before and after the attack, the play cultivates a sweetly realistic romance, while also dealing with heavy issues of violence, discrimination, and victim blaming.

The play opens with the to-be lovers, Callie (Pomelow) and Sara (Regan), meeting for the first time. Endearingly stilted and compellingly awkward, this scene brought a fresh sense of reality to the cliché of love at first sight. Director Book commented in the show’s program how “building chemistry through subtle movements” was one of her primary goals, which showed in the acting. As lights faded on the set of Callie’s apartment, it was apparent that both women were captivated by each other, despite the gaffes they each had made and their idiosyncrasies that had come to light.

Coming out of the fuzzy warmth of newfound love, the next scene crashed onto the stage with grim, shocking tragedy. This was the start of the second plotline, taking place not long after the attack. Callie sat on a hospital bed answering a detective’s intrusive questions about the assault, while we find out that Sara has been beaten into a coma and has yet to wake up.

The plotline progresses by switching between the two timelines, slowly revealing more details about the events of the night that separates them. In the earlier timeline, Callie and Sara navigate personality clashes, ex-boyfriends, and developments in their careers, quickly becoming friends and pushing slowly for romance. On the other side of the attack, Callie struggles to deal with its aftermath, having to face her own guilt about the events that night, the often negative reactions of people around her, and damage done to Sara.

Stop Kiss offers very human characters that are subject to situations and emotions on an extreme spectrum.

The earlier plotline develops their characterization through more trivial experiences, like frustration at a dead-end job and delight at a first date, while the later plotline deals with the tragedy of grief, trauma, and shock, but also the extraordinary support that love can provide.

It must have been a challenge to portray such a range, but the entire cast did an incredible job, with acting that felt genuine and nuanced. “The acting work is easy when you’ve got such great writing,” explained cast member Joe Mariani ’18.

While Stop Kiss dealt significantly with these darker concepts, the development of Callie and Sara’s relationship provided a bright ray of sunshine in the scenes between. Although the audience knew about the attack and its consequences going into the relationship, that knowledge failed to poison the joy that romance brought. “I thought it was one of the most adorable shows I’ve ever seen,” commented audience member Joseph Malionek ’17. “The awkwardness they were portraying was very believable, which made is so much better when it became less awkward.” 

Concluding with the charged moment of Callie and Sara’s first kiss, moments before the attack must have occurred, the play left a lasting and significant impression. Its compelling narrative drew me in, and the extraordinary writing was highlighted by its remarkable acting. But outside of its storytelling and its characters, Stop Kiss provided a valuable and rare dialogue on the important issues it covered.

Book stressed in her director’s note how important she believed it was to use theater to address difficult issues and the failings of our society. Stop Kiss deals unflinchingly with “important topics such as victim-blaming, navigating sexuality, how to respond to catcalling, and reconciling what you firmly believe to be the right thing to do with the safer and more practical option.”

While many of these dilemmas are left unresolved and the play ends with the audience knowing that a tragedy is imminent, Stop Kiss offers a bearable look at the issues, with a surprisingly hopeful end.