Ariel Leaf and Katie Starks in Stop Kiss.
Image courtesy Fortune's Fool Theatre
Sometimes, it is the little things that explain a play's problems. With Fortune Fool Theatre's Stop Kiss, it is the scene shifting.
It's not that the shifting takes an extremely long time, it is just that it happens a lot in Diana Son's play. Sometimes, the time needed to reset the stage is longer than the scene that follows.
This stop-start vibe makes it difficult for the show to maintain its drive, even with several strong performances at its heart. it's a frustrating piece of theater that shortchanges its compelling core idea.
In Stop Kiss, we watch two characters, Callie (Ariel Leaf) and Sara (Katie Starts) fall slowly in love in late 1990s New York City. We also watch the aftermath of a brutal attack on the pair as they share their first kiss on a snowy New York City street.
Son alternates scenes between the two time frames, starting with the first time they meet and the immediate aftermath of the attack, and then following each side chronologically. It's an intriguing idea, except that the dramatic heft of the post-attack world is a lot stronger than the stop-start courting that the hesitant pair go through in the months prior.
To keep the structure going, the playwright loses sight of the drama. The "before" characters spin their wheels for far too long. They feel like they have reached the point where they would want to go out for a late evening and have their fateful moment in the park long before it actually happens.
The "after" doesn't suffer from this, as it takes Callie through the horrific aftermath of the attack and into waiting for Sara to wake up from her coma. She comes into oblique conflict with Sara's Midwestern family with one central question: when Sara wakes up, will she stay with her new-found love in New York or return home to St. Louis with her family?
All of this gives Leaf plenty to work with, and the actor delivers a compelling, complex character that is lost in her own inertia and timid acceptance of the hard New York City life. Starks's dual character is heartbreaking, as the vibrant lover of life finds herself silent and barely able to move on the other side.
The other characters don't get nearly as much development and mainly arrive as ciphers (such as Sara's old boyfriend, Peter, brought to some life by Michael Ooms) or ways to showcase how the outside world reacts to the attack.
Though the play is 15 years old and legal advances (like marriage) have changed the landscape, the issues of violence against the LGBTQ community haven't changed. The play's honest approach and the solid performances help to push aside the very real issues in the structure and script.
IF YOU GO:
Through Jan. 25
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, plus Monday, January 27; 2 p.m. Sundays
For tickets and more information, call 612.298.2783 or online.