By Steve Rathje
This weekend, the Asian American Theater Project produced Diana Son’s moving play “Stop Kiss” in the Elliott Programming Center. This tender love story follows the story of Callie (Megan Gage ‘15), a disillusioned radio traffic reporter in New York who has agreed to watch the cat of her mutual friend Sara (Hye Jeong Yoon ‘15), an enthusiastic school teacher. Even though Callie is still seeing her “friend-with-benefits” George (Vineet Gupta ‘18), she and Sara find themselves falling in love. However, Callie and Sara’s growing love story comes to a halt after their first kiss when Sarah is physically assaulted in a hate crime and falls into a coma. This assault is never seen; instead, the story of it is told non-linearly with scenes jumping back and forth in time from the early hints of romance to Callie coping with Sara’s coma — a plot device that makes an otherwise simple story quite engaging and complex.
This nonlinear storyline is beautifully framed by an imaginative set (designed by Charlie Yang ‘17) in which the audience is placed on two sides of a narrow platform with two rooms on each side; one room is a warm apartment where the spark of romance first started, and the other is the stark, cold apartment where Sara recovers.
Director Asia Chiao ‘15 navigates this intriguing use of space smoothly, continuously exploring the tension between distance and intimacy in the play. Sara repeatedly shakes a magic eight-ball and always finds it landing in between two answers. Similarly, we, as audience members, feel as if we are always between two things: between the past and the present, between awkwardness and intimacy, and between a heartwarming love story and a heartbreaking assault. Chiao strategically plays with space, placing scenes between these two physical extremes and creating distance, both temporal and physical, to explore this continuum.
A stellar cast grounds this performance and helps lead us through the tonal and thematic extremes of the play. Megan Gage as Callie is the emotional heart of the story, and while she portrays the emotional moments with grace and poise, she brings many facets to her character, portraying dissatisfaction and ennui toward her life trajectory and fun and awkwardness in her relationship with Sara. Hye Jeong Yoon as Sara brings a delightful school-teacher-like enthusiasm that complements Callie’s personality, and together, Hye Jeong and Megan display great chemistry.
From the directing to the acting to the top-notch set and technical elements (Alex Aguilar’s ‘18 sound design elegantly underscores scenes and helps unveil the story of the assault), “Stop Kiss” is one of the highlights of the Stanford Theater scene this year.
Sharing a bottle of wine and playing cards together late at night, Callie asks Sara: “If there was a pothole in front of your car, would you swerve or straddle?” “Stop Kiss” reminds us not to be afraid to straddle: to face things head on, to choose intimacy over distance, and to embrace love in a world full of hate.
While the final performances of “Stop Kiss” are sold out, there will be a waitlist a half hour prior to the performances at the Elliot Programming Center.
Contact Steve at srathje ‘at’ stanford.edu.