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'Kiss' sealed playwright's success

Published January 5, 2006

Diana Son's life changed with the success of her play Stop Kiss.

When it opened at the Public Theater in New York in 1999, Son's day job was writing Star Trek trivia questions for the Sci-Fi Channel. The play was lavished with critical praise and prizes. That same year, Son moved with her husband, Michael Cosaboom, to Los Angeles for a script-writing job on TV's West Wing.

Stageworks is presenting the area premiere of Stop Kiss at Gorilla Theatre in Tampa tonight through Jan. 22, under the direction of Kerry Glamsch.

"I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. What I liked about it was that I got to use my imagination," Son said from New York. "Being a writer gives you carte blanche to explore experiences that you really haven't had in life."

Stop Kiss is the story of a charming traffic reporter, Callie, who is estranged from her boyfriend, George. Her instant friendship with Sara, who has left her boyfriend, Peter, in St. Louis to teach grade school in the Bronx, becomes the center of a funny and sad tale about love, homophobia and self-discovery.

"Their friendship is hard-earned, only because the natural chemistry that they immediately felt they knew is generally unacceptable and it wasn't consistent with their history," Son said. "But it was natural, beautiful and in an ideal world it would have been accepted - in a sensible world."

The brilliance of Son's play lies in its flash-forward and flashback narrative techniques, quirky dialogue and multidimensional characters.

"I've always been interested in identities being liquid and not fixed," Son said. "Sexual identity is not something worth labeling. I don't really understand the need to stake out any particular identity."

Alternating between flashing forward and back, the play explores the women's growing relationship and its consequences.

"I alternated between before and after the event," she said of the play's central conflict, an attack prompted by the women's first kiss on a park bench in Greenwich Village. Son compares the incident to her childhood experiences as the American-born daughter of Korean parents.

"In some ways, you could say the play is an analogy for the kind of experiences you have when you are walking down the street, just being who you are, and then somebody says, "Hey Ching-Chong.' It is a kind of unexpected violence that jolts you out of the fullness of who you are. All of a sudden you are just a label and the object of a negative response."

Son grew up in a small town near Dover, Del. A high school trip to see a production of Hamlet at the Public Theater sparked an interest in drama. She earned a bachelor's degree in dramatic literature at New York University before writing a series of fantasy plays and participating in the Playwrights Unit in Residence at the Public Theater. She turned to more realistic dialogue in Stop Kiss.

"I'm not interested in writing autobiography, so I've never written something specifically about what it is like to be Asian-American," she said. "I wrote about what it is like for these two women who were still sorting out who they were to each other and who had to overcome their own awkwardness and fear and their own homophobia really in order to work toward this kiss. As we follow the play, it becomes something well earned, something that we're cheering for, hoping for. Instead, they are beaten for it."

Now in her third year as a writer and producer for Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Son balances her time between her work and family, which now includes a 5-year-old son. Last summer, she began writing a new play, Satellites, which will have its world premiere this spring at New York's Public Theater.


Stop Kiss, today through Jan. 22. 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert Ave., Tampa. $22. $16 seniors. (813) 879-2914.

[Last modified January 4, 2006, 11:17:07]

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