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Photograph by Ray Renati
CRUCIAL CLINCH: Veronika Olah (left) and Michelle Beyda express their affection in 'Stop Kiss.'

Love and Anger

A tender moment leads to violence in 'Stop Kiss'

By Colleen Watson

CITY LIGHTS THEATER COMPANY'S new show, Stop Kiss, tells the story of two women who develop a deep friendship that slowly turns into something more, followed by a troubling act of violence. Alicia Davidovich, in her directorial debut, gives her vision to a story of how love and hate can completely change people's lives. Short scenes are used to establish the growing relationship between Sara, a teacher who accepts a job in the Bronx, and Callie, a Manhattanite who befriends her. The sight of the two women kissing leads to an attack that hospitalizes Sara and forces Callie to struggle with a prejudiced policeman. Stop Kiss starts off with Callie and Sara meeting for the first time; the next scene takes place is in the hospital after a violent assault on Callie and her friend, and you come to realize it's a few months later. We see both the burgeoning relationship and the aftermath of the violence to Sara leap-frogging each other scene after scene.

Michelle Beyda, who plays Callie, is a joy to watch as you see her go through many different emotions, while Veronika Olah's bubbly Sara offers a fun counterpoint to her more serious companion. Michael Riley as the homophobic cop is right out of Law & Order. Every time he came onstage, I expected to hear a dramatic "dun, dun" and then see the time and place flash above the scene.

Even though the actors are believable, it's hard to see the controversy of two women falling in love in modern-day New York. Yes, hate crimes happen all the time, and there still are quite a few homophobic people around, but it's just not that shocking for two women to share a kiss anymore. But there was a lot of chemistry between the leads, probably fueled by the fact that in real-life they are married.

The play runs a bit slow in parts as it tries to establish Callie and Sara's friendship, and the dialogue is rather stilted here and there. The overall heaviness of the plot is punctuated by bits of humor. The set is minimal but efficient. The establishing scene takes place in Callie's bedroom, while the scenes after the attack are mostly created with just a table or a wheeled-in bed.

Stop Kiss leaves its audience with some knotty questions, but it does a good job of explaining how difficult it is to define some relationships, even when you are in them. Relationships aren't just black and white but multifaceted and ever-evolving. Sometimes you have to step outside the moment to see what it is that you are a part of and what you really want.

STOP KISS, a City Lights Theater Company production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2 (June 7 and 14) and 7pm (May 24 and 31) through June 14 at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $25–$40. (408.295.4200)

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