No Rules Theater Company’s Stop Kiss tells the story of reluctant Callie and bold Sara as they meet and change each other’s lives in late-90s New York. Callie has a level of comfortable living that lazy accidents and compromises have delivered to her, and with it the ability to take in the cat of a friend of a friend. Sara’s handing over her beloved pet to a friendly stranger as one more of many sacrifices she’s making to pursue her dreams and do what makes her happy. It’s a credit to Rachel Zampelli’s portral of Callie that we never find ourselves wondering exactly why Alyssa Wilmouth’s Sara would go through all this hassle to be with her after they meet and strike it off.
As much credit as the actors deserve for bringing the love story to us in a believable way, playwright Diana Son deserves recognition for writing these two characters with nuance. Callie isn’t purely the one who needs help capturing some strength and Sara isn’t a paragon of guts who seems like she could go anywhere and do anything. The great success in this piece is the people and their relationships.
My only problem with the production is how much the rest of the complications felt like they were still talking to a late 90s audience. Stop Kiss comes out of a time period when there were a lot of pieces covering this ground – Chutney Popcorn. Kissing Jessica Stein. But I’m a Cheerleader. Etc. - and for me it still felt stuck there. The show embraces this time; the music used throughout firmly sets us in that period.
The fact that it’s not 1990 doesn’t mean this isn’t a valid story, any more than Lear’s ego issues can’t speak to us because they are set in a long-ago kingdom. Human stories should be timeless. But time is the issue – the non-linear telling of the tale takes away from the simple story of Callie’s challenge in being true to herself. It layers on mysteries – what’s she hiding? what happened? – and questions – wait, who actually assaulted her? how did it happen? – rather than just trusting us to be interested in how Callie and Sara’s story unfolds.
If there’s quibbles to be had with the story there’s none to match them in the acting or staging. NRTC has clearly demonstrated that they can set a beautiful and believable scene without the mad bank some other larger companies throw up on stage. I suspect with Shakespeare Theater Company’s budget that NRTC could build a better Taj Mahal. They and director Holly Twyford have staged Stop Kiss in a theater-in-the-round style, leaving you staring across the stage at the other half of the audience… who you won’t notice 5 seconds after the action starts.
Other quality touches abound and the rest of the actors bring the level of quality and professionalism we’ve come to expect from the young company. Ro Boddie in particular manages to bring some humor and warmth to a role that could easily have been nothing other than a (I can’t resist) simple straight man.
No Rules Theater Company’s production of Stop Kiss plays now through October 2nd at the H Street Playhouse, located at 1365 H Street NE, Washington DC 20002. The closest not-at-all-close metro stop is Union Station from which you can take the X2 straight across H St. Where’s my streetcar?