Stage Struck Review

Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

Tag Archives: John Sloan

Romance, Tragedy, and a Lesson: “Stop Kiss” stuns at the Pasadena Playhouse

Angela Lina and Sharon Leal in

Angela Lin and Sharon Leal in “Stop Kiss” at the Pasadena Playhouse. [Photo by Jim Cox]

There is no greater way to expand the understanding and empathy of people towards those not like themselves than by finding a story which becomes common ground. That’s perhaps the simplest way to “put a face” on an issue which may not otherwise resonate with the majority. That may also be the most important factor in the newest venture at the Pasadena Playhouse.

In Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss,” there are two central themes: the gradual development of a strong relationship that solidifies into love, and a violent act which rips the warmth from that story yet also does much to solidify its definition. The two themes unfold at the same time, allowing the audience to process both violation and relationship in an intertwined, very powerful way.

In essence, the tale is one of Callie, a long-time New Yorker, and the friend-of-a-friend newly moved from St. Louis, Sara. Callie’s social life hangs upon her college relationships, as she surfs a high profile but unsatisfying job and lands the perks of “who you know” as a city-dweller. Sara brings with her an idealism, having received a grant to spend two years teaching 3rd grade in the Bronx, and a sense of forward motion Callie has missed. The two click immediately, becoming fast friends moving slowly but inexorably toward something more. Then, at the moment of transition, their world shatters in a hate crime.

Angela Lin makes a genuine, worldly yet innocent Callie, secure in her world, yet still searching for meaning and connection. Sharon Leal exudes a personal confidence as Sara which, even though counteracted by her initial sense of being a New York outsider, leads to an expansion of both her own and Callie’s view of their worlds.

As Callie’s guy friend and occasional bootie call, John Sloan provides the symbol of her life before the play begins – one lived at arms length from true emotional connection. Brandon Scott, as the young man Sara left behind, provides a view of her own, solidly Midwestern, interconnected roots. Jeff de Serrano offers up the classic detective, hammering for facts and thus making Callie face home truths. Amanda Carlin, though also a hospital nurse, makes the most impact as the witness to the attack who calls police: empathetic but from a distance.

Director Seema Sueko uses David F. Weiner’s easily shifting set pieces to switch back and forth from the charm of a New York apartment to the chill of a street with great swiftness, keeping the pace going and thus the two tensions moving as well. In this play, performed without intermission to also avoid a break in the elemental flow, this proves key. Combine that with the charm, the sheer likability of the two main characters as portrayed, and one simply cannot look away. In the end, the responses of everyone onstage achieve a natural quality which may even be the point, but certainly lets the dramatic endings sync together like a resolved fugue.

“Stop Kiss” was written in 1998. What is both warming and sad about that fact is that the very scenarios described therein could happen today, 16 years later. Some of what is discussed is, for the traditional Playhouse audience, a bit controversial. Yet, that is not at the core of why one should see this lovely piece. Love, trauma, shattered dreams, and new realizations are foundational to many beloved moments in the theater. The themes do not change because the characters are different.

But then, of course, seeing them applied to these characters offers a chance to find that face, albeit a fictional one: that character (or characters) which can humanize an issue, and create the very empathy which brings an understanding and helps a society to move forward. Seems a tall order for a small relationship play, but it could be a start. This especially when the production is as fine, as moving, and as meaningfully intense as the one at Pasadena Playhouse.

What: “Stop Kiss” When: Through November 30, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $45 – $75, plus premium seating for $125 Info: (626) 356-7529 or

Cutting out the Clutter: “R II” reimagines one of Shakespeare’s hidden treasures

The cast of "R II" at Boston Court

The cast of “R II” at Boston Court

This production has been extended through October 27, 2013

As I – and many others – so often say, one of the most fascinating things about seeing new productions of Shakespeare’s plays comes from the very familiarity of the works themselves. Directors do not feel, as a rather staid British friend once claimed, that all the Bard’s plays must be performed in doublet and hose. Far from it. Doing Shakespeare is a license to be extraordinarily creative. His works’ longevity, in truth, comes largely from three things which transcend time: complex characters, universally human themes, and rich, gorgeous, profoundly expressive language. These are elements one can gleefully, well, play with.

Which brings me to the much-honored Jessica Kubzansky, co-artistic director of The Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena, and self-proclaimed Shakespeare freak. In love with the comparatively obscure history play, “Richard II” – a fount of rich, introspective poetry on the subject of increasing self-awareness – she decided to rework the thing. By losing the host of extraneous historical personages, she has honed the play down to the meat of the tale: a man left immature and selfish by his upbringing who is brought to full understanding of adulthood by the disaster his acts bring upon himself.

And thus, “R II”. Kubzansky has reedited the play into a series of flashbacks, as the doomed Richard ponders his fate and what brought him there. And she has honed the cast of 33 named persons and assorted underlings down to three individuals. One plays Richard. The other two play the 12 other people essential to the plot. Some necessary dialogue from others has been handed to the 12, some to Richard. Stripped of its finery and its crowds, this intimate piece becomes an extraordinary celebration of those very things mentioned above: character, humanity, and articulate speech.

Then she has set the thing in Kaitlyn Pietras’ minimalist, yet surprisingly evocative set, with projections of essential lines of dialogue occasionally pounding the back of the room as sound designer John Zalewski’s whispering crowds mutter in your ear. Jenny Foldenauer’s all-purpose black costumes, festooned now and again with just enough to create individual personages, allow for quick character shifts and – as does everything else – divorces the audience from the drapery and pomp of an ordinary production of one of the history plays. All attention is therefore on the essentials: the king.

John Sloan creates a Richard who shifts over the course of the production from callow youth to an achingly doomed wisdom, yet remains essentially ordinary – less than imposing even in an ornate crown. He is never really offstage during the entire two hours or so of the production, and his commanding use of Shakespearean dialogue in the process of Richard’s gradual metamorphosis keeps the show alive.

Two people, 12 characters

Two people, 12 characters

Paige Lindsey White, playing five parts but most particularly Richard’s nemesis Henry of Bolingbroke, and Richard’s Queen Isabel, commands varieties of body language and vocal tone to shift us from character to character with a conviction which carries the audience with her quite seamlessly. Beyond that, she manages to imbue these very differing people with their own rounded passions, drives and griefs. Fascinating to watch.

Likewise Jim Ortlieb is called upon to create a total of seven persons, all of whom are fairly elemental to the storyline. Ortlieb is at his best when operating outside Richard’s family circle, either as Thomas Mowbray startled at the king’s double-dealing, as the fascinatingly spun John Bushy whose portrayal colors the entire production, or the Bishop of Carlisle stuck between history and doctrine. On the other hand, perhaps the one weakness of this startlingly good production (and it is more an issue with the script than this performer) comes as Ortlieb is asked to keep various of Richard’s kin separate, all of whom come from the same rank, concern, and general attitude.

Still, that takes little away from “R II.” The poetry – some of Shakespeare’s best – is retained. I admit Richard’s speech in defeat, “let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…” is one of my favorite, if one of the gentlest of the Bard’s poetic lines. Here it stands out more than usual because of the focus on Richard alone. If Shakespeare intrigues you, and particularly if you have never met “Richard II” onstage, this is one to see.

What: “R II” When: Through October 13, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 8 p.m. Wednesday October 2 and 9 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, with senior and student discounts Info: (626) 683-6883 or

%d bloggers like this: