“Love is sudden and it is also slow at times. You do not get to choose who you fall for.” This is how sophomore Juju Bonilla explains Diana Son’s complex and moving love story “Stop Kiss.”
The play will be performed at Ursinus in the Blackbox Theater April 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and April 9 at 2 p.m.
The story opens in 1998 with a young teacher named Sara who wins a fellowship to teach at a school in the Bronx. She moves to New York City with hopes of changing the world. She meets Callie, who shows her around her new neighborhood. They both struggle with their identities and finding themselves, and gradually come to realize that they love each other.
According to theater professor Dr. Meghan Brodie, the show’s director, “they are brave enough to reveal their feelings about each other,” but tragically, the moment in which they do this is interrupted by a violent attack on the two women.
Bonilla, who plays Callie, said that “throughout the play, they’re battling their feelings until someone gets the courage to actually kiss the other person, [but] that kiss leads to a brutal hate crime.”
“[The show] premiered in 1998, the same year in which Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence, left to die in Laramie, Wyoming,” said Brodie. “Last year, nearly two decades after the Matthew Shepard murder, the New York Times reported that LGBTQ people are more likely to be targets of hate crime than any other group.”
Brodie said that the play exposes the struggle that marginalized groups still face.
“I think ‘Stop Kiss’ highlights the senselessness of hate crime and the horrible irony of responding to love with violence,” she said. “For me, the play is a reminder that we must work toward creating a world in which our shared humanity prevails over the ignorance and hate aimed at those whose sexuality, race, religion, ability, or gender expression are viewed as non-normative.”
Tommy Armstrong, who plays Callie’s best friend George, added that “hate crimes aren’t about those who commit them; rather they are about those who are made victims of them.”
In “Stop Kiss,” after the play relays that the crime was reported widely in the news, the story of the victims – Sara and Callie – continues and the two women and those close to them have to live and cope with the events as reality rather than just another news report.
Sara and Callie’s story, while heartbreaking, is an honest and beautiful story of love. Even with its heavy themes, it manages to delicately portray the awkwardness and uncertainty of a new relationship and the wonderful sweetness of having someone love you.
According to Skye Gailing, who plays Sara, the story “transcends any lines of gender and sexuality … because these characters are so realistic and so relatable.”
“I think anybody, no matter their gender or sexual identity, could find something that resonates with them in it,” she added.
As Claire Hughes, the production’s stage manager, put it, Callie and Sara “don’t know they’re attracted to women in the beginning,” but instead are “two average women who end up falling in love.”
“Stop Kiss” shows the sweetness of a love story but also shows real, deep pain as the characters deal with the attack and its consequences.
The play has a unique structure which “moves back and forth in time, switching between the weeks leading up to the attack on the two women and the weeks following the attack,” explained Brodie.
“Stop Kiss” also aims to help the audience understand love and its significance on a personal yet universal level.
“In ‘Stop Kiss,’ romance is something that grows slowly and unexpectedly. ‘Stop Kiss’ is about how we navigate the often unfamiliar landscape of falling in love, complete with all of the struggles, embarrassments, and joys associated with new romance,” Brodie noted.
The title of the play itself can have many interpretations. Callie and Sara have many things standing in the way of their relationship, including their personal anxieties, the oppression of their heteronormative society, and the too-common threat of violence.
Armstrong reflected that many of the play’s themes still resonate today, some 20 years after “Stop Kiss” first premiered.
“There are people who are going to try to stop you, try to stop your love because it is not what they think is normal,” he said. “You need to stop and then kiss.”
In “Stop Kiss,” this is just what Callie and Sara do. Despite the hate they face, they are brave enough to evaluate their feelings, decide that they want to love each other, and finally kiss.
Tickets are available online at ursinus.edu and at the Box Office for $5 for students, seniors, faculty and staff, or $8 general admission.