The only thing I knew going into “Stop Kiss” was that “it is about hate crime.” I fully expected to go, embarrassingly cry (which happened) and then drown my post-show sorrows over the feeble state of humanity in a liter at Biergarten Hause (which happened, also). I did not expect utterly adorable and awkward humor, hope and a lesson in the power of love. Go figure.
“Stop Kiss,” by No Rules Theatre Company and directed by Holly Twyford, is a wonderful production that illustrates the senselessness of hate crime without being political or preachy. The compelling message is in the idiosyncrasies of each character and the randomness of events. In life, you never know what can happen – who you will meet, how they will affect you – which is a reality that can be joyful, painful and always surprising.
Rachel Zampelli powerfully steers the show as “Callie,” a self-deprecating young traffic reporter living in New York who befriends “Sara” (Alyssa Wilmoth), a newbie from St. Louis ready to shed her sheltered life at home and break out on her own as a teacher in the Bronx. Zampelli (who expertly played Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, in Studio Theatre’s “POP!”) has amazing comedic timing, and brings Callie down-to-earth as a seemingly tough scaredy-cat. Callie and Sara randomly meet and, slowly but surely, fall in love. Through every other scene, the play tells two different stories: the meeting and lead up to an evening where the women are brutally attacked during their first kiss, and the events directly afterwards.
Both Wilmoth and Zampelli compellingly turn from giggling, silly wine drunk to painfully scary post-attack states in a super quick scene changes that would leave the audience spinning, if the production wasn’t so damn good. Both ladies share a natural chemistry awakened through respect, awe and emotional empathy that reminds you of what it’s like to fall and be in love. Ro Boddie, No Rules company member, lends an awesome portrayal of “George”, Callie’s college friend and occasional hook-up, while Howard Wahlberg is perfect as “The Detective.” Oh, and Karin Rosnizeck is just stunning (and has a pretty solid American accent!).
The intimate setting of the H Street Playhouse brings the audience into poignant spaces that define Callie and Sara’s relationship: Callie’s apartment, a NYPD interview cell, a hospital room. The set design places Callie’s foldout sleeper bed – a place Callie and Sara lounged and became acquainted on – across the stage from Sara’s hospital bed. In the beds alone, audience members are confronted with symbols of innocent love and brutal hate that are impossible to ignore.