Despite the fact that half of the play concerns the aftermath of a violent act that places a leading character in the hospital, Diana Son’s play “Stop Kiss” is both quirky and romantic. The storyline of the production was brought to life by the performances of and the chemistry between the two leads, played by juniors Sarah Bond (Callie) and Sara Deatherage (Sara).
Under the guidance of advisor Dr. Heather McMahon, associate professor of theatre at MC, senior theatre major Jarnagin presented the intimate production at 8 p.m. April 11-12 and 2 p.m. on April 13 in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Haslam Family Flex Theatre.
Audience members observed the play through reverse chronology beginning when the two women meet, flashing forward to interrogation scenes in the present, emotionally exposed moments in the hospital, Sara and Callie’s slow fall into love and finally, Sara’s recovery from that attack.
During her time at Maryville, student director Jarnagin has participated in 16 school productions in roles that vary from actress, stage and house management, sound design and assistant director.
However, Jarnagin takes on the role of director during “Stop Kiss.” In fulfillment of her senior thesis, Jarnagin directed tasks that not only include hours’ worth of practice session for the cast and set design, but sound and lighting, scene changes and much more.
“I’m usually doing stage management,” Jarnigan said. “It’s a completely different experience directing the play myself.”
Jarnagin artfully created a fully realized world for the characters despite the limited space of the Flex Theatre. Jarnagin’s set design was largely devoted to Callie’s apartment but also had a dedicated section of stage for the hospital, obscured by a large dark curtain when necessary. The curtain was meant to be a continuation of Callie’s home—a wall—when it needed to be, but the presence of the curtain kept the fact of Callie and Sara’s future symbolically visible in their past. Callie’s apartment was also artfully decorated and cluttered, in character. Callie’s kitchen table became the interrogation room with the subtle movement of one of the wooden chairs.
“We also tried isolating certain scenes with light, but, stylistically, I wanted it to be subtle and striking,” Jarnagin said.
Although scene changes had the potential to be drawn-out ellipses of darkness for the audience experience, Jarnagin and Clayton Center technical director David Rasnake created an architecture of sound that artfully introduced scenes with sounds symbolic of the physical space.
“The transition from the apartment to the hospital was my favorite,” Jarnagin said. “David would pick these great songs with tempos that matched the heart monitor beeping rhythm perfectly.”
With an even pace, “Stop Kiss” navigated the territory between gay and straight ways of living, and shows the barriers between them to be largely artificial, living in the minds of the people involved. “Stop Kiss” could be simplistic or heavy-handed, but the playwright avoided this. It is instead a rare play that gives the audience something complicated to think about rather than trying to spoon feed them all the answers.
“I wanted ‘Stop Kiss’ to be a different take on a love story,” Jarnagin said. “The play over anything else should show them as people growing together, falling in love.”
By emphasizing the romance over the moral, “Stop Kiss” tells a story that could have been a tighter, more issue-focused production feel universal. Jarnagin’s rendition of “Stop Kiss” served as a gentle meditation on the price we may pay for indulging the freedoms we should all enjoy.
Similar to the themes in the play, Jarnagin’s written senior study addressed the issues of equality and freedom, focusing on early casting practices involving sexual orientation, gender and racial issues.
Themes of equality run through “Stop Kiss,” as well, and Jarnagin said that she picked up on the subtly of Son’s own casting process.
“Diana Son never has a physical description of her characters, only the personalities of the characters themselves,” Jarnagin said.
Son’s notes depict that casting for the characters should reflect only the diversity of New York City.
“I think it’s a really interesting concept that Son’s characters could be anyone because it makes the story that much more universal and accessible to everyone that sees ‘Stop Kiss.’”
Jarnagin’s future plans include pursuing a career in professional touring across the country, where she may be involved in productions as impacting and dynamic as the ones she participated in at Maryville College.
“I’m really honored that I got to close out the Maryville College theatre season,” Jarnagin said. “This was the most amazing experience I could ask for.”