MANILA, Philippines — Stop Kiss, with its nonlinear storytelling that tackles both tragedy and comedy, is a tumble dryer of emotion. The play introduces us to the budding romance between Callie (Missy Maramara), a traffic reporter, and Sara (Jenny Jamora), a school teacher. The story alternates between two timelines: one where Callie and Sara first meet and slowly fall for each other, and another that shows the aftermath of a heinous assault at the hands of an enraged bartender. During the assault, the bartender focuses his rage on Sara, whose injuries leaves her comatose.
The transitions between these scenes are done through an ingenious method: a panel glides across the stage, revealing new sets and characters as it moves. The sound and set design deserve major credit here. Director and set designer Ed Lacson Jr., and sound designer Teresa Barrozo created a sparse, but effective, set for the story to unfold. Given the play’s non-linear format, a simple set lets the viewer reorient themselves during each timeline shift.
The first timeline is peppered with witty dialogue and sharp observations on life. The different backgrounds of the two women are emphasized, often to humorous effect. Callie is more worldly and outgoing, while Sara is more serene and altruistic. This is especially apparent in one scene, where the two prepare to head to a formal event. Callie is aghast at Sara’s bohemian outfit — but Sara is completely oblivious to the norms of Callie’s cosmopolitan lifestyle.
While their personal differences create tension, these differences also form the backbone of their tentative romance. Callie and Sara fall for each other because they’re so different. Callie respects how meaningful Sara’s occupation is. And Sara thinks Callie’s job as a traffic reporter, with the regular helicopter trips the job requires, is one big adventure.
Witty banter notwithstanding, Callie and Sara’s relationship takes shape amidst everyday scenarios. They hem and haw over which restaurant to eat in. When someone’s late for an important event, they argue. When Callie wins an implausible award for traffic reporting, Sara beams and insists on hanging the plaque in a prominent spot.
The story doesn’t exoticize their relationship. This is what makes Callie and Sara’s story so powerful and believable. There are no grand romcom-style gestures here, just an honest portrayal of love.
Stop Kiss is a study in the universality of that most of human emotions. Love is love.
A harrowing turn
If the scenes showing Callie’s and Sara’s blossoming affections are a joy to watch, the ones showing the aftermath of the assault are heartbreaking. Callie recounts the harrowing event to Detective Cole. The night the assault took place, Callie and Sara shared their first kiss at a bar. The bartender offered the couple $50 to watch them make out — which the couple refused, of course. In a fit of rage, the bartender attacked the two, focusing on Sara.
While Stop Kiss shows us that the love shared between two bisexual women is just that: love, it also reminds us of the dangers LGBT people face. The attack is reminiscent of the real-life incident where a group of London teenagers attacked a lesbian couple for refusing to kiss for the group’s entertainment.
The detective is incredulous, and even tries to pin the blame somehow on the two women. And during Callie’s hospital visits, she runs into Peter, Sara’s ex-boyfriend. Although Peter isn’t as keen to victim-blame as the detective, he believes Sara’s move to the big city is somehow related to the incident. Amidst all the incredulity and passive-aggressive comments, Callie continues to visit the comatose Sara.
In happier times, Sara mentioned that her feet get warm easily, and prefers to have them uncovered while sleeping. So now, during the hospital scenes, Callie would always pull the sheets back to expose Sara’s feet. This gesture becomes a sort of visual reminder of Callie’s commitment. The two never had the opportunity to formalize their relationship before the attack. But Callie’s continued presence shows that she’s in it for keeps — in sickness and in health.
The emotional peak of the play is when Callie finally finds the courage to change Sara’s clothes. The play had been building up to this moment. Callie would ask the nurse if she could help change Sara’s clothes, but would back out at the last minute. But now, she’s ready. With some measure of difficulty, she gets the job done. The significance of the scene can’t be ignored. This is the grandest gesture of love — one person changing the clothes of her lover. Nothing is trivial, the play tells us. Every small gesture, every mundane chore, has significance. Love is love.
Catch Stop Kiss on its last last shows on July 19 to 21 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Tickets are now available at https://www.ticket2me.net/e/2445/stop-kiss or http://www.tinyurl.com/StopKissMNLTickets — Rappler.com
Iñigo de Paula is a writer who lives and works in Quezon City. When he isn’t talking about himself in the third person, he writes about pop culture and its peripheries.