Let your friends suggest what to go see. You’ll end up in places you might never have found otherwise.
Led by my friend, tonight I went to see Stop Kiss, Diana Son’s play at the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival, directed by Shaun Benson, from gun shy theatre. I’m far more familiar with the travails of gay men in western culture than the female equivalent. But knowing the play’s trajectory I was immediately implicated, watching a beautiful naked woman dancing onstage, knowing that the chief problem in this story comes from the male response to that beauty.
Without giving it all away, let me simply quote from the director’s note, when Benson says he’s not happy to be directing this play:
“A play about two women falling in love and being beaten into a coma for it ought to be so obscure and irrelevant that only pedants and perverts know of its existence”.
I don’t know this work or the playwright, but was impressed by the natural ear Son shows for dialogue. This is not a display of ego from a writer, indeed the writing is so subtle you could lose track, she makes it seem so effortless, so understated. The one tiny affectation –if you can call it that—came in moments when exchanges of incomplete phrases between characters brought the absurd minimalism of Pinter to mind. In those pauses we were suspended not by some authorial tour de force (those moments when Pinter shows off his craft), but the gravity of the situation and the pure passion of the characters.
The dialogue alludes briefly to the TV series Law & Order, a metaphor that seems to underlie the play’s structure, looping back and forth in time before and after the catastrophic events. Much of the first half of Stop Kiss uses attempts by the police to make sense of a crime, while supplying us with plot exposition. The further we get into the play, the less it’s about forensics, and the more it probes feelings & consequences.
There’s so much to celebrate in this production, from the tightly written play-script, given an air-tight reading in performances that are all dead on –due to astute casting—and wonderful chemistry between the principals. Melissa Hood’s Callie is a difficult role to portray, because we’ve all met women like her, easy to underestimate; the further we get in the play, the deeper Hood takes us into Callie, quite an astonishing portrayal. Kate Ziegler is a wonderful contrast to Hood, the articulate teacher, disabled by the attack.
There’s one aspect I’m struggling with, as I try to decide whether I saw something that’s in Son’s script or possibly Benson’s directorial invention; I wonder who deserves the credit. As we move back and forth in the action, the scenes are set through the wonderfully artificial device of having the characters come in and out in character at that instant, which means for example, that Sara is helped in and out for those scenes where she is in a coma, then five seconds later in the next scene–from a few days before the assault—she’s suddenly the vibrant woman she was before the attack. The meta-drama of those set-ups was at times every bit as gripping as the play itself, problematizing not just what we’re seeing, but our understanding of consciousness itself. I found the suspense and the surprise overwhelming at times.
Stop Kiss is a fabulous piece of work, and notwithstanding the brutality at its core, an affirmation of love & humanity. I recommend it without reservation.