It would be nice to think that “Stop Kiss,” Diana Son’s 1998 play about two bisexual women whose budding romance leads to a brutal assault in a public park, would be outdated by 2017. I might have even thought that was the case just a few months ago. But now? Not so much.
Son’s tale of an unlikely romance between two historically straight women who fall for each other only to become the victims of a hate crime is a jarring reminder of how fragile something as simple as personal safety can be for marginalized groups.
But the play’s merits are more than political. It delves into the awkwardness of negotiating human emotions — in this case, the cautiously blooming romance between Callie (Hannah Daugherty) and Sara (Eileen Doan).
It normally wouldn’t sound like a compliment, but in this show’s case, Daugherty’s and Doan’s ability to sustain awkwardness, discomfort and shyness is one of the most rewarding aspects of the play. As the pair’s connection blooms from friendly stranger to friends to something more, the pair exchange many tender scenes of romantic advance and retreat that deftly portray the thrill and fears of early romance, a process that is made all the more precarious by both women’s history of being with men.
At 19, Daugherty plays the meaty role of Callie, whose tough New York veneer is a striking contrast to Sara’s Midwestern Pollyanna ways, with a sense of composure beyond her years. I am selfishly bummed that I won’t get to see her develop on a Bluegrass stage, as she has plans to move to California to pursue more advanced acting training. Doan, who is a solo musician in her other life, brings a bright, fresh-spirited performance as Sara.
The play’s narrative isn’t told in chronological order. It begins with Callie’s and Sara’s first meeting, followed by a post-assault scene in the hospital, and then works its way forward and backward until the audience finally sees how their romance finally did cross that awkward line that the pair tread the entire play.
Ian Scott’s spirited supporting performance as George, Callie’s on-and-off friend with benefits, adds humor and verve to the show while representing the life that Callie is outgrowing.
Walter Eng, Lizzie Royce and Daniel Ellis also deliver sound and entertaining supporting performances.
Kudos to Adanma O. Barton for creating such an emotionally nuanced show that packs a bigger-picture punch.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.