Saw Gun Shy Theatre’s Toronto Fringe production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss at the Tarragon Main Space last night. Directed by Shaun Bensen, and featuring a stand-out cast, it’s a play I was familiar with, but only on the page. And I was very glad to have gone out to see it.
Set in present day New York City, Stop Kiss reveals the evolution of the relationship between two young women, who start out as the friend of a friend of a friend, then become friends and more, their love put to the test when violence shatters a beautiful moment.
Bright-eyed and fresh off the plane from St. Louis, teacher Sara (Kate Ziegler) and jaded, long-time NYC resident and traffic reporter Callie (Melissa Hood) at first appear to be polar opposites, but find they have more in common than they first thought. And you know what they say about opposites.
Benson has a lovely cast for this production. Leads Hood and Ziegler do an especially good job with Callie and Sara’s unfolding attraction, bringing humour, conflict and sexual tension – not to mention the excited nervousness of entering strange new romantic territory – with nuance and honesty. And when that relationship is threatened by violence and misunderstanding, both fight and persevere – in scenes that are both infuriating and heartbreaking to watch. Can love really be stronger than fear? Callie, especially, finds herself having to choose between facing situations head-on or swerving to avoid them.
Fantastic work from the supporting cast. As the men in Callie and Sara’s lives, Stefano DiMatteo’s George (Callie’s friend with benefits) is a loveable guy’s guy from the block and Mark Paci’s Peter (Sara’s ex from St. Louis) is a stand-up, loyal, if not misguided, friend. Anthony Ulc brings a nice combo of hard-nosed warmth to Detective Cole; Trish Adams is delightfully kooky as witness Mrs. Winsley; and Ronnie Rowe’s nurse is the affable professional you want on your side.
This production is nicely staged for the time and space shifts, with minimal set, and the sound design incorporates ambient city sounds, pop music and moments of the attack, which we never see. And the ending… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Stop Kiss continues its Fringe run at the Tarragon Main Space until Sunday, July 14. Click here for the date/time details.