Stop Kiss by Diana Son. Directed by John Trainor and Denise Roller.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Do you know me? Do you know who I am?"
For nearly two hours the question of who Callie really is hangs in the balance. In a play constructed more like a made-for-television movie with no scene lasting more than three minutes we wait to find out exactly who this woman might be if she allowed herself to be herself. She is a friend. She has a friend with benefits. She has a job she hates but is presented an award for doing it well. She has an apartment in Greenwich Village, clearly still rent-controlled, that she inherited from a boyfriend who deserted her, and for her own sister. She has a cat thatís not her own. She has at least thirty outfits (I think there were at least that many changes of costumes) and none of them flatter her. She has need of a hair-dresser. But do we know her? Do we know who she is? Absolutely not.
We know who her friend Sara is almost from her first entrance in scene one. We know who her friend George is and how he exists. We even know who a woman is who canít sleep at 4:30 in the morning when an unanticipated act of violence changes Callieís life forever. Playwright Diana Son draws everyone clearly, but she never really gives us a way into the mind and heart of Callie. Maybe if we had a scene of any length where she could slowly divulge her inner mind, her deeper convictions, her secret heart, we would come away feeling like the two hours in our lives - they comprise the many weeks of her own life - would have been truly well-spent.
The Town Players of Pittsfield has taken a mighty risk presenting this odd play in the middle of their 90th season. They have staffed the play with good actors, talented directors and an excellent scenic team (although a bright stage representing a darkened room was an oddity) at Barrington Stage Companyís Stage Two space. They have done as well by this play as any company could do. But at the end of the two hours (with no intermission) we emerge from the theater astounded at having no sense of the main character.
Kim Kirchner plays Callie with drive, energy, trepidation, fear, love, in fact every possible emotion, but as written there is no Callie there. There is, instead, a walking dead woman. Kirchner takes every risk with this performance. She plays nuances that are more physical than lyrical and helps us to see what can be seen, but she is burdened with a scripted woman who is only two-dimensional.
This is a shame for playing opposite her as Sara is Stefanie Weber. Weber is not as good an actress as Kirchner, but she has a much better realized character to play. She does her very best to bring to life a woman who sets herself a mission from the end of that first scene, one that she carries through to the end. It is a job well done. Weber is making her theatrical debut in the Berkshires in this role and she will hopefully be able to hone her talents into a fully credible, fully realized character in the future. She shows us here that she is completely capable of doing it.
Also making acting debuts in this show are Cheryl D. Nelson and her former 8th grade student Denis Guyer. Guyer is a surprise. As the police detective assigned to the assault case that brings the friendship of Sara and Callie to life Guyer takes the stage and makes it his world. He has a sense of reality that is both refreshing and energizing. Nelson plays the older neighbor who witnesses the assault and reports it to 911. Her two scenes are well-played and believable. Teacher and Student are great in their scene together, worth the price of the ticket.
Monica Bliss takes the small role of the hospital nurse and does well by it. The two young men who play the boyfriends of the two leading ladies are also fine. Jerry Greene as Peter has a single scene in which to bring to life a character who has too much on his mind for his own good. He does it well. Cody Miller, on the other hand, drifts in and out of the play and makes every scene heís in his own personal space. George is egotistical and Miller takes advantage of that trait to give us a really well-rounded anti-hero.
Trainor and Roller keep their well choreographed stagecraft moving the play along even during the long scene changes - at times it seems a 3-2 ratio was in operation: three minute scene, then two minute scene change. The jazz music helped, but it outlasted itself.
A play about the tragic events that follow a kiss that is anything but innocent is what the Town Players are presenting for just one more weekend. In spite of my rant about the play not fulfilling its mission, it does give us a momentary happy ending, one fraught with our knowledge of the outcome of such bliss. Itís a curious point on which to end a play, and yet, that is perhaps the finest accomplishment of the author. This is certainly worthy of our attention. The question is do you dare expose yourself to this fascinating piece of human exploration. And do you know who you are?
Stop Kiss plays two weekends, ending on March 27. For information and reservations call 413-443-9279.