Don't get me wrong. The drama Stop Kiss has a fine script with a compelling story. The cast of the Richey Suncoast Theatre II production playing through Feb. 26, is an honor roll of the theater's best actors, plus a newcomer who promises to be a great addition to that list.
Despite all this, the play isn't quite stellar, strictly because of playwright Diana Son's many short scenes that require numerous blackouts for set dressing and costume changes. I counted at least 15 scenes during the 90-plus minutes of the one-act play, meaning most are no more than 4 or 5 minutes long, some much shorter. Even though the backstage crew works quickly and quietly to change out set dressings and pieces, there's no getting around the fact that so many pauses break the flow of the story. Fortunately, the opening night audience sat respectfully silent between scenes, for the most part, allowing patrons to reflect on what they'd seen and anticipate what might come next.
The plot centers around violence against a conventional-looking lesbian couple by an angry homophobe. Although it was written almost 20 years ago, the subject matter still resonates, more so in recent years as a top politician seems to have given such people permission to attack those who disagree with what the attacker considers correct thoughts or behaviors.
It's told in scenes alternating between the present and recent past, switching from the cozy apartment of 11-year New Yorker Callie (Suzanne Meck) to a hospital room where her lover, city newcomer Sara (Gemma Davimes), lies in a coma.
The apartment scenes show how Callie and Sara go from being friends of a mutual friend, to acquaintances, to best friends and, finally, to lovers. It's tastefully done by the two talented actors, making the audience fall in love with them as it all plays out. Callie can't understand why Sara would be willing to teach third grade in the dangerous Bronx, and Sara can't understand why Callie keeps her job as a radio traffic reporter when she views it as silly and meaningless. But they come to understand everything else about each other and are drawn together by those traits.
Michael McGuigan is excellent as George, Callie's good old, dependable "friend with benefits," who's supportive and sweet, but enraged when Callie is injured for what he sees as no good reason. Jason Hoolihan is heartbreaking as Peter, Sara's ex-boyfriend who's still in love with her and wants to nurture and protect her even though she left him. And Bob Marcela is superb as Detective Cole, needling Callie into telling the truth about the violence perpetrated against her and Sara and drawing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from a chance witness. These three accomplished actors are a joy to see, all with enough wide-ranging talent to play comedy, drama, farce or musicals, and director Vicki Schuster McGinnis wisely put them in exactly the right roles.
Emily Nettnin is fascinating as Mrs. Winsley, the West Side neighbor who's a story within herself. With her nasal accent and pushy ways, she's equally effective in exchanges with the perceptive Detective Cole and with a grief-stricken Callie. It's also good to see Anne Lakey back on stage, even in a brief role as Nurse. Her warm voice and compassionate demeanor shine through, even with just a few lines.
The many four-letter words and subject matter make this play suitable only for ages 13 and older, but those who appreciate a touching story and fine acting will surely enjoy this timely play.