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June is here! Time for large corporations to put out their rainbow-ized logos and merchandise (unless they chicken out!). Time for people on the Internet to argue about whether sexual kinks belong at Pride! Time to watch a 25-year-old play about two women who share one kiss only to be assaulted in the middle of the night?
If that seems like a curt description of Stop Kiss, onstage through Saturday, June 17, at South Camden Theatre Company in collaboration with the Strides Collective, it’s because I cannot think of a work that is farther from a “celebration of love and pride” as what the producers tout on their website and in the pre-show announcement. This poorly aged relic of a play tells the story of two women who, after months of questioning, share a single kiss only to be assaulted later that night. The play alternates between timelines, with the kiss and the subsequent gay-bashing serving as the central events.
A friend of a friend in the Big Apple
First, let’s discuss the love story. Sara (Lisa Villamil) is new to New York City by way of St. Louis. She is an idealistic teacher, eager to start a two-year fellowship in a Bronx elementary school. Her “old friend of an old friend” Callie (Dana Lee Capanna) helps take care of Sara’s cat and a friendship quickly emerges. While Callie is a New Yorker through and through (replete with every cliché about how great living in the Big Apple is) she is also conflict-avoidant and scared to make meaningful change to her life. Sara, on the other hand, now freed from the shackles of the Midwest, is ready to take on any risk and confront any problem.
Unfortunately, because we already know where this story ends up, the audience doesn’t get to feel the exciting uncertainty of early queer romance. We know they end up together. We also know where that leads them: queerness becomes an inevitable tragedy, not a scintillating discovery. Making matters worse, the two actors, while engaging in pleasant-enough banter, have the sexual heat of an episode of Gilmore Girls. Aside from the ill-fated kiss, the only other moment with potential sensuality is a scene where Callie assists Sara in getting dressed after the assault. Unfortunately, the direction by Strides Collective founding artistic director Jonathan Edmondson prioritizes the realism of a post-coma patient getting dressed, overlooking the opportunity for eroticism.
A cautionary tale?
So if the play fails as a love story, does it succeed as a story of gay pride? If anything, it seems to be more of a cautionary tale. Maybe that fear is warranted. In the 25 years since Stop Kiss premiered, queer people are still four times more likely to experience violence than their straight counterparts. In particular, women of all orientations are more likely to experience this type of violence than men. Stop Kiss isn’t particularly interested in the structural realities that oppress queer people. It is content to take a rather clinical glance at how the criminal-justice system and nuclear families are hostile to queerness, but with no glimmers of hope for anyone to grab.
South Camden Theatre Company and the Strides Collective have each shown a serious commitment to portraying meaningful stories on their stages in the past. This collaboration feels like a significant misstep, particularly during Pride month.
What, When, Where
Stop Kiss. By Diana Son, directed by Jonathan Edmondson. Through June 17, 2023, at South Camden Theatre Company’s Waterfront South Theatre, 400 Jasper Street/Michael Doyle Lane, Camden. (866) 811-4111 or southcamdentheatre.org.
The Waterfront South Theatre is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Patrons with questions about accessible seating can call the box office during regular business hours.
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