21. A book we read in high school/college/law school and loved: Stop Kiss by Diana Son
List Progress: 14/25
I realized I was a bisexual woman midway through high school, and gradually came out in a fairly smooth way. I had already been participating in my school’s GSA, thinking of myself as a particularly engaged ally, and I had a fascination with literature involving gay men. But by the time I was in college, I had only engaged with a few pieces of writing that dealt with queer women (a special shout-out to Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, two great YA novels about queer young women). I came across the play Stop Kiss by Diana Son in a theater class and did some scene work from it, and was immediately hooked. This was the first lesbian play I had come across, and as such it will always have a special place in my heart. But reading it ten years after my freshman year of college, and twenty years after its 1998 debut, does it still hold up? Well, mostly.
(TW for homophobic violence.)
Stop Kiss is a relatively short play told out of chronological order, in a way that the back half of the story is essentially cut off and overlayed with the first half. It is a fascinating structure, which serves to distract from some of the shlockier elements of the story and gives the finale the one-two punch of showing the conclusion of the story right before showing the climax that comes in the middle. Looking at this piece as a formative element of my own writing development, it is the structural elements that jump out the most and have shaped the most of what I like about the theater as a medium. The story itself, however, is a bit more stock standard.
Sara and Callie are two late-twenties/early-thirties women living in New York in the 90’s and slowly falling in love while trying to sort out their identities and paths in life. The chronological mid-point of the story is the night of their first kiss. A man walks by them kissing in the early morning and heckles them; Sara shouts back and the man proceeds to beat her into a coma. The scene of the attack is thankfully never portrayed (and the attacker character never actually appears onstage), but the second half of the story picks up in the immediate aftermath, with Callie being interviewed by the police, witnesses recounting the attack, getting updates on Sara’s condition, ect. These scenes alternating is jarring, but in a powerful way, portraying the innocent development of love against the after effects of extreme violence. The first half of the story is unfortunately the stronger one, but both are quite strong and the structure keeps anything from being too cliche.
The characters are both of a very specific type, young professional women who don’t know where they are going later in their lives. Sara and Callie are very detailed and well-drawn, though the same cannot be said for any of the side or supporting characters. (The detective specifically is just there to pry exposition out of others.) But it’s their story and they carry it well. I have never seen Stop Kiss on stage, but I would be fascinated to see how the character progression works with this story told out of order.
If you can’t tell, my feelings about Stop Kiss are fairly scattered. It does not stand up as well as my nostalgia served it, but it is still a lovely play with some great structural elements. If you are ready to engage with a lot of homophobic violence in the text, it is a very strong play that does not trivialize what has happened and the impact of it on both women. Jump in and get ready to have a lot of feelings about love, life and identity.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely.