Stop Kiss, which centers on a love affair between two women, highlights the harshness and severity of the reactions of others toward being gay, even as recently as 20 years ago. Since then, we have come a long way in the world of LGBTQ+ rights, but this play serves as a painful reminder of a horrifying reality.
Directed by Taylor Tranfaglia, MCAS ’18, BC’s version of Stop Kiss last weekend created a painfully broken, yet real, world set in the late ’90s in New York City’s West Village. The play was written by Diana Son and originally performed Off-Broadway in 1998 in New York City.
The play’s unique structure allows it to fully captivate the audience in a powerful way. Stop Kiss is performed as if it were a puzzle with jumbled pieces. Even the first few seconds of the play were moving—as the lights dimmed into a deep blackness in the Bonn Studio, the audience was forced to use senses other than eyesight to draw conclusions about what was happening. As you sat there in this complete darkness, you listened to a heartbeat and sirens, the noises of city streets during times of utter stress. The noises enveloped the audience members. Their brains were racing to analyze what they were hearing as it blared from the speakers, but their bodies sat completely still, with goosebumps all over their arms and legs (because there isn’t one person on earth who enjoys the sound of a heartbeat for any prolonged amount of time).
This minute or so of sounds seemed to drag on forever, mainly because of their unpleasant nature. But this introduction shaped the entire play—it evoked a complete emotional response from the audience. When something sad or scary or disgusting happens onstage, a person can look down or around at something else. But the audience couldn’t even see their own hands—there was no escape from the ominous sounds and sensations.
After this unique introduction, the play proceeded to jump backwards and forwards on a timeline—it is almost impossible to map it out mentally. From the start, the audience knows somebody is in the hospital just by hearing the heartbeat and mundane beeping of machinery. It flips back and forth between how the two main characters, Callie (Elizabeth Koennecke, MCAS ’19) and Sara (Deborah Aboaba, MCAS ’21), meet, become friends, and eventually fall in love, and the aftermath of a brutal hate crime targeting the two once they are a couple.
It was a small, simple production, which made it all the more personal to every person in the audience. The cast consisted of just six people—Callie and Sara, as well as George, Callie’s ex-boyfriend (Nick Barbolla, MCAS ’21); Peter, Sara’s ex (Andrew Meck, MCAS ’18); Detective Cole (Peter Dunn, MCAS ’19); and Mrs. Winsley/Nurse (Samuela Nematchoua, MCAS ’18). The intimacy between the cast and audience was woven together through phenomenal acting on all parts.
The set itself was incredibly well made. It only consisted of Callie’s living room, the police station, and the hospital—but that’s all it needed. The entire play switched back and forth between these three locations, with the exception of a New York City street moments before the assault occurred. This simplicity gave a certain dimension of focus to the audience, which was trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle using just these few locations and eerie sonic flashbacks.
As the play went along, it became easier to follow the storyline—from the perspective of someone who came in knowing nothing about Stop Kiss, at first it was jumbled and confusing, but it quickly began to flow much better. The exemplary performances by the entire cast, but by Koennecke and Aboaba in particular, created a completely realistic and believable ambiance that was both intriguing and terrifying.
Stop Kiss makes viewers pause and think about the hostile (but improving) world we live in today. Hate crimes still occur, but thankfully, they are not as prevalent as they used to be. But it was clear that the violent acts against the couple in the play were not the only thing affecting them—the way other characters talked to them and referred to their relationship clearly drove their insecurities through the roof. In the program for Stop Kiss, Tranfaglia says that the play is “meant to invoke questions and start meaningful conversations.” Stop Kiss will definitely make head waves at Boston College, especially during this time of debate about funding on-campus LGBTQ+ groups. Between the impeccable acting, intrinsically unique sensory experience for the audience, beautifully simple set design, and powerful storyline, Stop Kiss will surely be remembered at BC for years to come.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff