Stellar ‘Stop Kiss’ presents thought-provoking issues

Cap & Bells' performance of 'Stop Kiss' exhibited acting and technical excellence in exploring difficult themes of sexual identity. Photo courtesy of Isabel Hanson '16.
Cap & Bells’ performance of ‘Stop Kiss’ exhibited acting and technical excellence in exploring difficult themes of sexual identity. Photo courtesy of Isabel Hanson.

Director Nico MacDougall ’17 presented the play Stop Kiss by Diana Son as part of the Cap & Bells season last Thursday, Friday and Saturday on the CenterStage at the ’62 Center. The play tracks the relationship between two queer women in New York City over the span of a couple of months and their experience as targets of a hate crime, as well as how they recover from that horrible incident. The play succeeds on many levels: In mirroring the track of the relationship, facilitating discussion on our responses to abuse and in making the audience seriously consider the role of gender and sexuality in a modern relationship.

The two leads were thoroughly impressive throughout the performance as they conveyed emotion in the wake of tragedy. Apurva Tandon ’17 in the role of Sara commanded attention even in many of the scenes in which she had no lines and was merely lying in a hospital bed. While most of the attention naturally falls upon Ayami Hatanaka ’18 and Tandon for their roles opposite each other as the leads, the cast of supporting characters also added necessary depth to the play.

Scott Lipman ’18, in the role of George, and Jack Scaletta ’18, in the role of Peter, made the audience hate each of their characters in a unique way, despite their limited time on stage. Terah Ehigiator ’18 provided a scarily convincing portrayal of Detective Cole and used his intense, well-rehearsed timing with Hatanaka to discomfort the audience and make them think about the existing culture of victim-blaming and the role of anger in that culture. On a lighter note, Emma Pingree-Cannon ’15’s portrayal of Mrs. Winsley paired the script’s words with a blissfully nonchalant demeanor to create some much-needed comic relief, although not without its own brand of  social commentary.

The scenes alternated in setting from before and after the attack. As such, there was a clear dichotomy between the emotions of each type of scene. Scenes before the accident oftentimes felt slow and lethargic, sometimes appearing both under- and over-rehearsed, while the scenes after the accident showcased the real talent of each actor.

The most exciting acting in the play came from the lead actress Hatanaka. In not only her Cap & Bells debut, but her first acting role ever, Hatanaka absolutely blew the audience away with her time onstage, countless costume changes and of course her raw emotion and obvious talent. It was quite a demanding role for a first-time, first-year actor and I can’t wait to see what else she does with the three years ahead of her.

On the topic of looking forward, the design team should be lauded for the aesthetic beauty of this production. One look at the set, designed by Rachel Waldman ’17, put the audience immediately into a crowded New York City apartment, aided by the clutter of the props, courtesy of Erin Hanson ’18, which helped mark the passage of time.

Another one of the more apparent aesthetics were the costumes, which were simplistic but appropriate and helped tie together the scenes, whose nonlinear construction could sometimes be confusing. The designers Miranda Hanson ’17 and Isabella Salmi ’17 created a wonderful image as the colors of Hatanaka and Tandoor brightened and darkened depending on the state of their relationship and were generally a splash of color against the monotonous tones of the rest of the cast. The designers pulled off the costume changes called for by the nature of the play as best they could, but it still slowed down the transition times in between scenes.

Luckily, the time in between scenes was made bearable by a haunting original soundtrack composed by Scott Daniel ’17, who impressed and affected the audience with his seemingly endless talent. Last but certainly not least, the lights were no less than striking as Nathan Perry ’17 balanced the intensity of violence and love in the play and projected it across the black box stage with his skill with lights.

All of these elements were brought together by MacDougall, who, with the help of his superb stage manager Ariel Chu ’17, should be credited for not only bringing this play to the College campus, but also for using it as a stage from which to exhibit the future of theater here at the College. MacDougall cast actors perfectly so that each character played to the strengths of the students portraying them.

Last weekend’s Stop Kiss was an inspiring performance of young talents that made the audience feel connected to an uncomfortable story in the most productive way possible.