Falling in love is scary. As with anything worth living for, there are risks, and hopefully, the corresponding rewards that far outweigh the former: you’re crossing over into new, irreversible territory with someone you care deeply about, and it could make or break everything. The thing is, you never know until you decide to go for it and be honest with yourself and everyone else about how you feel.
So, yeah: falling in love is nerve-wracking enough on its own. Add the social stigma that comes with developing feelings beyond heteronormative ideas, and it could be dangerous and heartbreaking — something two women find out the hard way in Diana Son’s play Stop Kiss.
Told in non-linear vignettes, Stop Kiss unfolds on a late night in which two friends, Callie and Sara, finally break a long period of tension and share their first kiss. It should be exhilarating and just slightly unnerving, but this act of intimacy and affection is ruined when a man witnesses it and, in an act of homophobia and misogyny, physically assaults them. The aftermath, as Callie and Sara try to make sense of what happened and why it did, is traumatic and bleak.
First staged in Manila in 2003, the 2019 production of Stop Kiss is directed by Ed Lacson Jr., who also did the sparse but vividly detailed stage design. As Callie and Sara respectively, actresses Missy Maramara and Jenny Jamora are brilliant, giving bold and tender performances. (They also starred in the 2003 productions, but they were playing each other’s roles.)
The story is far from light and at times hard to watch, but it also perfectly nails what makes a romantic slow burn so electrifying: that fine line between friendship and something more, the tentative steps forward leading to the act of confessing, the tiny shifts that make up the big picture.
The production arrives shortly after Pride month — full of strong-willed protests and celebrations where queer people can create safe spaces and proclaim who they are and who they love. But less known is what comes after, when these same people have to scrub the rainbow paint off their faces, change out of their colorful outfits, and throw away their pride flags for fear of being harassed and attacked on their way home. Stop Kiss is a story that is all too common and relevant no matter the year, and it has continued to remind us both of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to come.
Love is never easy; it’s a constant freefall into the unknown. Loving makes you brave and strong because you choose to do it regardless of the consequences — but relationships and bravery shouldn’t have to go hand-in-hand just because you happen to be a woman who loves another woman. Over 20 years after its first staging, ahead of its time even now, Stop Kiss painfully and beautifully addresses why people who identify as LGBTQ+ shouldn’t have to live in fear, and why the real cowards, in the end, are those who have trouble accepting them.
Stop Kiss runs until July 21 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Tickets are available here.