Stop Kiss—written by Diana Son and directed by Alex Levesque—takes place, like so many other plays, in the West Village of Manhattan. It is there, amid the ubiquitous brownstones and manicured greenery, that Callie (Maha Nagaria), lives by herself, working as a traffic news reporter. Meanwhile, just a couple subway stops away, Sarah (Esmée Cook) has just moved in from St. Louis, having procured a teaching fellowship in the Bronx. When the two meet for the first time, Callie offers her new friend the advice of a seasoned New Yorker—“If it gets too rough… go home.”
It’s hard to pinpoint the reason that New York City appeals to storytellers the way it does. It must be some combination of history, industry, and heterogeneity that has given the city its infamous reputation. Bright Lights, Big City, RENT, and other such stories made the city hallowed ground for stories of the misfits and the mavericks. Yet Friends, Sex and the City, and Seinfeld turned NYC into a stock setting—so uncool and overdone that now we’re starting to write romcoms that take place in Philadelphia or Chicago, instead. Where the NYC setting has failed in television it has thrived on stage—NYC remains the theatre capital of the world, and succeeds in representing not only the diversity, but the challenges that the notorious city poses.
Callie and Sarah’s story isn’t a particularly groundbreaking one. It deals with themes of self-acceptance, fear of the unknown, and prejudice—all of which are, frankly, done to death. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything very particular about a tale of two girls from two very different worlds, both trying to make it in the big city. Their issues are mundane and simple, not unlike our own. Both girls are battling with self-denial, identity, and their feelings for one another—storytelling tropes as old as fairytales.
This is perhaps why the content warning on the program might take audience members by surprise at first, with it’s threat of “graphic and emotional descriptions of violence.” The play begins innocently enough, with the promise of friendship between the two young girls, but quickly takes a dark turn as another, more ominous thread begins to unravel. Before long, it is revealed that Sarah is in a coma after being attacked during a night out.
Stars Nagaria and Cook delivered a genuine, if slightly uneven, performance. Miles Keily-Baxter portrayed Callie’s neglectful, sort-of boyfriend with such familiar poignancy that his mere presence onstage immediately elicited an eye-roll from the crowd.
The audience can’t help but become invested in the story as its complexities begin to reveal themselves. It’s a simple story, and not without its hokey moments and the occasional bit of corny dialogue.Yet there’s a reason we keep coming back to NYC for classic love stories—derivative though they may be. Stop Kiss is not a play for the cynics or the skeptics—it’s a play for anyone who’s not too cool for a good, old-fashioned love story that represents many important aspects of humanity. Callie and Sarah’s story is sweet and funny and heartbreaking all at once—and it’s one that merits attention.
TNC’s Stop Kiss is playing from March 29-April 1 at 8 p.m. in Morrice Hall in the Islamic Studies Building, 3485 Rue McTavish. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 general admission.