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Love story with an edge

Gorilla Theatre's Stop Kiss is a tender portrayal of a budding relationship intertwined with the effects of shattering violence.

Published January 10, 2006

People who have been following Kerry Glamsch's long theater career have come to expect a certain sensibility from his work. As a playwright and as a director, he's drawn to topics and characters with jagged edges, to aggressive material that snarls at theatrical conventions and rips at the audience's psyche.

So his latest directorial project, the Stageworks/Gorilla Theatre production of Diana Son's Stop Kiss , is something of surprise. Despite a thread of extreme violence that weaves its way through the entire play, Stop Kiss turns out to be, at its heart, a genteel and charming story about a nascent love affair.

Glamsch, who directed Finer Noble Gases at the University of South Florida in 2004 and wrote the highly unsettling Amy's Pitiful Legs, produced at the old Warehouse Theater in 1993, shows here that he's able to deftly handle material that's lighter and more conventional.

That's not to say that Stop Kiss is unsubstantial or unoriginal. Playwright Son intertwines two related stories - one about the beginning of a relationship between two previously straight young women, the other about a vicious beating they endure - and creates a fresh and compelling narrative.

There's sufficient wit in the dialogue, and enough charisma to the characters and the relationships, to make the love story enjoyable on its own. The two women experience all the tentativeness and uncertainty that marks the beginning of any new relationship, but it's all exacerbated because neither knows how to initiate intimacy. They dance around talk of lesbianism, both afraid to broach the subject to the other.

But the sharpest aspect of the script is the way Son alternates between that story and the attack, which leaves one of the women in a coma. We first meet the women on the very first day they meet each other, then move to the moments after the attack, and then go back and forth between the two plot lines. The love story progresses day by day, the aftermath of the attack moment by moment, until they catch up with each other.

The production is nicely paced, and the cast and crew handle the technically and emotionally complex play handily. R.T. Williams' set functions well as both a New York City apartment and a hospital, and the many costume and scene changes are handled with remarkable efficiency.

But the two lead actors, Brittany McLaughlin and Aisha Duran, are only adequate. They're both young and have limited stage experience, and their extremely appealing stage presences signal promising futures. But they don't seem to have enough depth at this point to bring extra dimension or dynamics to their characters.

At times they have some real chemistry together, though, and on the whole their performances are more than acceptable. They don't elevate the material, but the material is strong enough that they don't really need to.

[Last modified January 10, 2006, 01:52:17]

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