Stop Kiss, Diana Son’s 1998 play about two women who are brutally attacked when they’re caught kissing in the early morning in New York’s West Village, is edgier than the Pasadena Playhouse’s usual fare, though not as radical or controversial as the program notes suggest — at least, one hopes not, in 2014.
The account of a lesbian (and, in this staging, interracial) romance between two women who self-identify as straight marks the Playhouse directorial debut of associate artistic director Seema Sueko, who joined the theater in January 2014. While the play profits little from being staged in the Playhouse’s relatively cavernous space — this show is more effectively mounted in an intimate setting, like Rogue Machine’s version in 2009 — Sueko has created an affecting production, largely due to Angela Lin’s standout performance as Callie.
Sliding along two parallel tracks, the play follows Callie (Lin), a disaffected New York traffic reporter, and Sara (Sharon Leal), a St. Louis native who moves to the city on a fellowship to teach in the Bronx, from the moment they first meet until much later, as they respond to the attack that puts Sara in the hospital. Both actresses are still finding their footing in the early scenes with displays of overly mannered awkwardness, but over the next 90 minutes we witness the subtle shifts that move them from friendship to indisputable attraction.
As Callie, Lin plumbs even throwaway lines for meaning, revealing new shades of subtext and humor that make the character’s evolution believable and compelling. She is also gifted at making the abrupt shifts between hilarity and tragedy necessitated by the play’s structure feel seamless and authentic. Despite Leal’s sometimes stagey performance, we’re still never quite sure where Sara’s feelings stand — an odd omission for a character who prides herself on her forthrightness.
The rest of the ensemble is mostly fine, with John Sloan especially good as Callie’s friend-with-benefits George, but it’s Lin who makes the character, and the production, her own.
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena; through Nov. 30. (626) 356-7529; pasadenaplayhouse.org.
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