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Review: Stop Kiss at Empire Stage passionate and engaging

Stop Kiss is a story about a friendship between two women which flourishes into an unexpected attraction.  Callie, a New York City traffic reporter, and Sara, a schoolteacher transplanted from St. Louis take us through those oh so sweet beginnings of falling in love.  Their budding relationship is impacted by a sudden act of homophobic violence.  Diana Son, award-winning playwright, tv producer and screenwriter is the genius behind this provocative play. Stop Kiss was first produced in New York City in 1998,  won the GLAAD Media Award for Best New York Production and was on the Top 10 Plays lists of the New York Times, New York Newsday, and the New York Daily News.

At Empire Stage, Jeffrey Holmes directs a fine cast which would do Diana Son proud. Callie, played by Monica Garcia, delivers a strong and authentic performance.  Danielle Tabino (as Sara) is both innocent and seductive -- in an Audrey Hepburn kind of way.  Sparks fly as our heroines discover a bittersweet world of love, tension and sexual attraction. Garcia and Tabino have a fantastic chemistry and create believable moments of tenderness and conflict on stage.  Kitt Marsh nicely oscillates from Mrs. Winsley (a witness of the assault on Sara) to the role of the compassionate nurse tending to Sara. Todd Bruno plays a persuasive George; your typical guy's guy who has a "friends with benefits" relationship with Callie. Manuel Enrique as Detective Cole and Alejandro Posada as Peter (Sara's ex who we meet when she is in a coma) add to the talented cast.

The set, light and sound design (all done by Holmes) are not as strong as the direction. The thrift store quality set design does the job, yet creates several clumsy entrances and exits. Lighting and sound cues, although impeccably timed at first, lingered (preview kinks which surely will be ironed out). On the plus side, the multi-talented Holmes  creates bold lighting design which strongly express the theme of the polarities of light and dark.  Every scene ends with spot on lighting and sound cues.  

Although Stop Kiss addresses hate crimes (gay bashing in particular which leads to Sara being in a coma), it's refreshing to see characters who are not distracting stereotypes.  They're not  waving their gay flags and fighting the masses for a labeled stamp of approval.  This show is a sincere comedy drama which looks at the dynamics of relationships.

Empire Stage, formerly Sol Theatre Project, is an eclectic and intimate space. Jeff Holmes along with Erynn Dalton, the show's Producer (Infinite Abyss Productions), have a mission to carry on Sol's mission of producing process-oriented work and to additionally produce thought-provoking works, both original and existing, using the mediums of theatre and film. Stop Kiss is a good thought-provoking choice of plays for this venue's mission. 

Ticket prices are $25 for special previews (April 1 and 2nd) and $30 for the rest of the run; the show runs through April 25th.  Tickets at the door are cash only. Call 954-678-1496 or visit www.empirestage.com to purchase tickets online.

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