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Kiss Is Not Just a Kiss

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Rice’s newest play explores the consequence of a kiss.

By Marene Gustin • Photo by Mark Hiebert

StopKiss
Sigrid Owen (l) and Carolyn Tanner in Stop Kiss, directed by Matt Huff (r).

“A kiss is just a kiss,” sang Dooley Wilson in Casablanca, but in reality, isn’t it more? That’s the premise of award-winning playwright Diane Son’s Stop Kiss, the off-Broadway play from 1999 that won both an Obie and a Media Award from GLAAD. This month Rice University’s Theatre Department presents the play of violent gay bashing and humorous blossoming love.

“This is a play I’ve wanted to work on,” admits director Matt Huff, guest artistic director at Rice for the spring semester. “It’s not just a gay play. The characters don’t really identify with gays. On a simple level it’s a love story. Yes, there is violence and gay bashing, but it’s also a romantic comedy.”

Stop Kiss is the story of disorganized New York City traffic reporter Callie and her growing friendship with Midwest transplant Sara, who comes to the big city to teach in the Bronx. Though vastly different characters, the two form a bond that develops into a friendship and much more, ending in a street kiss that sparks violence by an antigay onlooker.

Huff is gay, but the two leads at Rice are not.

“I’ve never done a girl kiss on stage,” says Rice junior Caroline Turner, “but I think it will be pretty cool.” Turner is cast as Sara, a role originated by Sandra Oh off-Broadway. “I think there’s a bunch of me in Sara. She comes from a conservative family like I do, but she’s also feisty and curious, and that’s what I want to make real.”

“The way the couple falls in love is just like any couple,” explains Sigrid Owen who plays Callie in Stop Kiss. “Straight, gay, or bisexual, it’s all the same.”

Both young women admit that the scenario probably wouldn’t happen today in New York, but Owen points to the recent defeat of California’s Proposition 8 as how relevant the message still is today.

“We fall in love with people,” she says. “Not races, genders, or backgrounds. That’s what the play is all about. It’s encouraging people to ask themselves, ‘What do I want?’ And I’m trying to ask myself what I want. Being in the play is really helping me grow.”

“I grew up in Dallas,” Turner says. “And I think this could still happen there today. So it’s really an important play for the community, and I’m excited to be in it.”

The play moves back and forth through time, showing the beginning of the women’s friendship, and the aftermath of the kiss, as Sara lies comatose in a hospital, and their two heterosexual lovers arrive.

“Structurally it’s intense,” says director Huff, “as it moves back and forth. And the casting of the two women is central to the success of the play. Finding the right dynamics is crucial.” But he thinks he’s found just that with Turner and Owen.

“Caroline is really open to the kiss, and I’m really open to the character,” Owen says. “I want to make her and the relationship seem real.”

“Their tentative first kiss leads not only to shocking violence,” says Rice’s theater department director Christina Keefe, “but also to a moving transformation. Making choices and commitments is a scary business as Stop Kiss suggests. But what’s the alternative?”

Stop Kiss
Diane Son’s award-winning play runs at Rice University’s Visual and Dramatic Arts Theatre Hamman Hall, March 20–28. Tickets for opening night are $5; $10 thereafter (seniors $8, students $5). Call 713/348-PLAY (7529) for ticket reservations.

Marene Gustin wrote about Houston Ballet’s Marie by Stanton Welch for the February issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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