In a case of unfortunate synchronicity, University of Pittsburgh Stages presents Diana Son's Stop Kiss — in which two women meet, fall in love and then get attacked — shortly after news hit about that gay-bashing in Philadelphia. Son's 1998 play, which just about everyone wishes would be a museum piece by now, proves anything but.
Yet Stop Kiss is hardly an issue-du-jour play. Son went out of her way to make this a theatrical experience. In the first scene, Sara and Callie meet; the next scene is on the night of the attack, as a police officer takes Callie's statement. Then we're at Sara and Callie's second meeting, and then watching what occurs after the police scene ... and so on.
Son's toggling back and forth lets her collide wildly contrasting mood and content. The play's ultimate journey is Callie's (she must admit her love for Sara), and in both time frames she's being driven to do just that. For some reason, Son is ridiculously coy about the women's sexual identity. In 1998, it might have been just this side of playable, but 16 years later the women seem slightly stupid and curiously isolated.
Brittany Coyne directs a very strong Pitt student cast, with remarkably layered performances from Lucy Clabby, as Callie, and Kieran Peleaux, as George. And Leenie Baker plays Sara with an abundance of relentless cheeriness. Coyne takes advantage of all the drama Son has provided, and the production is filled with many moving moments.
The downside to Son's schematic is that very soon a sort of monotony creeps in: happy scene, sad scene, happy scene, sad scene. Coyne overemphasizes this with blackouts — as opposed to crossfades — and some very, very fussy set-piece business. Do we need a blackout just to bring on a chair, only to have another blackout to take it off and another to bring it on ... and so on?
This approach continually pulls us out of the otherwise sturdy and effective production that Coyne has created.