By Lisa Steiner
Stop Kiss, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Wednesday March 1, 2023
The Nebraska Repertory Theater has opened its run of Stop Kiss, a story about two young women in New York City figuring out how they fit into one another’s lives.
Written by Diana Son, Stop Kiss was originally produced Off-Broadway in 1998. We follow Callie and Sara, who meet each other through mutual friends. Callie is a helicopter-riding traffic reporter, while Sara is an elementary school teacher in the Bronx who has a cat named Caesar (that the cat lovers in the audience unfortunately never see).
The play’s timeline switches back and forth, both before and after an attack on Sara while she and Callie are coming home from a night out. The play uses supporting characters (a detective, witness, and nurse) to bring an outsider’s perspective to the hate crime.
Also involved are George, Callie’s friend with benefits, and Sara’s ex-boyfriend Peter. Callie and Sara appear to be attracted to each other somewhat quickly, even as they navigate how to initiate any sort of romantic relationship while having these other men in their lives. It’s not specifically stated, but I got the feeling that they had not yet been with women. This awkward situation between these four people leads to something much more in the aftermath of the assault, when Callie makes the commitment to see Sara in the hospital every day as she recovers.
When I entered the small black-box theater, I was very much impressed by the astonishingly intricate set designed by Taylor Walters-Riggsbee. The space was used very economically, serving as Callie’s apartment, a hospital room and waiting area, a police station interview room, and a New York City sidewalk. In perfect partnership was the lighting design by Kennedy N. Wilcher, who used a variety of lamps at specific times to light different areas of the stage that were multi-purpose. I especially appreciated the dreary fluorescent light of the hospital room. Sound design by Christopher Kriz caught my attention too, as different sources of sound (boom box, intercom, telephone) actually sounded from the area of the stage they were located.
Our two leading ladies are played by Aeris Esterly-Tilmon (Callie) and Mariana Hermosillo-Alvarez (Sara). They carry a majority of the action and seem to do this effortlessly. Seamus Doyle (George) does a great job with his almost-jealous jerk persona. Trace Harre plays Peter, who is just the sweetest Midwest young man trying to be supportive of Sara, while not quite sure what is going on with her personal life since they broke up. Christopher Meister does a nice job of playing Detective Cole, adding nuance to his role of being a hard-working investigator dealing with a challenging situation. Sarah Rachel Schol easily distinguishes her characters while playing Mrs. Winsley, an eye-witness to the assault, and the nurse attending to Sara.
One of my favorite moments of the play was when Callie was helping Sara in the hospital. Sara’s muscles have atrophied from being in a coma, and she still needs a great amount of assistance with any physical or functional movement. Callie assists Sara with changing her clothes. This simple act showed a level of intimacy and trust between the two of them.
I appreciated the actors’ skill in navigating the extensive interruptive dialogue in the script; I imagine there were quite a few em dashes and/or ellipses to honor. Portraying this naturally can be a challenge, and I thought Esterly-Tilmon and Meister handled this especially well, even while adjusting for a few minor prop mishaps, no doubt due to opening night energy.
I don’t often get to The Rep, but I’m almost always happy about it when I do. Stop Kiss is no exception, with its captivating story and invested cast, crew, and production team. Something important to keep in mind: the play is 90 minutes with no intermission, and because it’s in the Studio Theatre, seating is limited. So get there early, find your seat, and use the restroom before the house lights go out!
If you go: Stop Kiss continues its run this weekend and next. March 2-4 at 7:30pm, March 5 at 2pm, and March 7-9 at 7:30pm, performing in the Studio Theatre at the Temple Building located at 12th & R Streets in Lincoln. Tickets may be purchased at https://nebraskarep.org.
Lisa Steiner is a long-time lover of theater and the arts who enjoys performing, music directing, and filling the role of patron. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she also was a staff writer, layout designer, and production editor for The Reveille newspaper. During the day, Lisa is a case manager for the Department of Health and Human Services. Through this great position, she is able to combine her strengths of working with people and completing paperwork. Lisa also has two cats, Sienna and Lucy, who tolerate each other.
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