Director's Notes on the NSU Theatre presentation of

By Diana Son

Synopsis

It doesn't do this play justice to say that much of the action takes place in a hospital room around the bed of a comatose woman. From unpromising material--standard urban settings, stilted exchanges, missed cues, private jokes, half-finished sentences--Diana Son has crafted a subtle, moving drama about vulnerability and risk. When Callie, a twenty-something New York traffic reporter, promises to take on a cat owned by Sara, "some friend of an old friend of someone," she arranges to leave quickly after Sara drops off the cat so that she doesn't get drawn into a dull evening with a stranger. Callie is an expert at avoiding conflict, which serves her well in the city. Sara, on the other hand, has willingly left her job at a Quaker school in St. Louis to teach third-graders in the Bronx. Although both are "straight" women, they circle each other warily, nursing an unspoken attraction. The playwright's choice to shuttle back and forth in time, between the hospital room and police station and the early days of Callie and Sara's friendship, lends a bittersweet quality to even their lightest exchanges, allowing us to wonder, along with the two women, whether the violent outcome of their single kiss makes it a bad idea.

About the NSU's Production

The actresses playing the leading roles in Northern State University Theatre's production of Stop Kiss are Sara Pilatztki-Warzeha as traffic reporter Callie and Angela Nguyen as school teacher Sara. George, Callie's friend and confidante will be undertaken by Rory Behrens while Sara's Missouri boyfriend Peter will be played by Phil Coghlan. Rounding out the cast are Seth Honerman as Detective Cole, Amber Noble as Mrs. Winsley and Erin Guetter as the Nurse. NSU's Director of Theatre Daniel Yurgaitis directs the production and Technical Director Larry Wild provides the set and light design. The play will be performed onstage at the Johnson Fine Arts Center. Performances are scheduled for Wednesday through Saturday, February 21-24, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10.00, with discounts available for seniors and high school students. Tickets increase $2.00 at the door. Tickets go on sale Monday, February 12th in the NSU Bookstore. For additional information, call 626-2563. This play contains adult language and adult themes.

About the Playwright

Diana Son was born and raised in Dover, Delaware. She studied Dramatic Literature at New York University and received the Berilla Kerr Award for playwriting. Son was also nominated for the John Gassner Playwriting prize. She is the recent recipient of an NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant with the Mark Taper Forum. Diana Son is the author of Stop Kiss which premiered at The Public Theater on December 8th, 1998 and has been produced at over one hundred theatres throughout the U.S. and internationally. Her other plays include BOY, R.A.W. ('Cause I'm a Woman), and Fishes and have been produced throughout the country. Her newest play, Satellites, premiered at the Public Theater in May 2006 starring Sandra Oh. She is currently a writer/producer for the NBC series Law & Order: Criminal Intent and is an alumnus of New Dramatists. Stop Kiss won quite a few awards in the years following its premiere, including one from the GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). She is currently a member of the Playwrights Unit in Residence at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

Some of her television writing credits include the following episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent:

  • The War at Home (2006), Story and teleplay
  • Tru Love (2006), Story and teleplay
  • On Fire (2006), Story and teleplay
  • Wasichu (2006), Story and teleplay
  • Scared Crazy (2005), Story and teleplay
  • Magnificat (2004), Story
  • Great Barrier (2004), Story
  • Shrink-Wrapped (2004), Story and teleplay

Link to Dianne Son's credits on the Internet Movie DataBase.

About Writing

(Sources: Joe Adcock, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Playwright's Early Start Pays Off"
Sarah Raskin, American Theatre, "Love Wins: An Interview with Diana Son"

A Korean-American Upbringing

Diana Son's father and mother are from Korea. They settled in Milford, Delaware, which Son describes as a "chicken factory town." "My parents met in Philadelphia," Son says. "My father was a student at the College of Pharmacy. My mother was an exchange nurse at Lankenau Hospital. My father had a white Gran Torino with a red racing stripe, which, I gather, made a big impression on my mother." Her parents wanted Son to grow up to be "very American," she says. But like many parents, they had reservations about a career in the arts. "I knew they would not let me go to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University," Son says. "So I got a bachelor's degree in dramatic literature. It had to be NYU, of course, because it's right near the Public Theatre."

All the Signs pointed to Theatre

But it was Diana Son's senior class trip that changed her life. "You know how most high school seniors love 'Catcher in the Rye?'" she asks. "Well, I loved 'Hamlet' in that way. I was enthralled by it.

"And we were going to see it in New York! Then I found out a woman, Diane Venora, was playing Hamlet. I was sure she was going to ruin it for me. But when the show started -- this was at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre -- I was enthralled. I didn't know what was happening to me. Eventually I was fearful that it would end. I didn't want it to end, ever."

By the time she was in the fourth grade, Son knew that she was not meant to be an actor. "Acting is a gift," she says. "After a few discouraging experiences, I realized that it was a gift I had not received." Writing since she was in grade school, she felt that "writing would be my way of getting into the (theatre)."

Television Provides a Way to the Stage

Flash forward 18 years. Son is now a successful playwright. Her drama Stop Kiss played to standing-room-only houses at that very same Public Theatre in which her life suddenly veered toward playwriting. The sometimes implacably picky New York critics were fulsome in their praise. And the play has been optioned by film director Robert Greenwald. It has seen throughout the country in regional, university and community theatres.

Stop Kiss' structure is built on the very idea of time- as the play moves forwards and backwards in time. Callie and Sara are young and single and in New York. They are used to dating men. They find themselves falling in love with one another. Finally, in a Greenwich Village park, they get around to kissing one another. A raging homophobe takes exception. He attacks them. Sara ends up in a wheelchair.

Son tells her story by jumping back and forth from the way Sara and Callie began to the way they ended up. "My father and mother saw the play and really liked it," Son said in a recent phone interview from her work station at The West Wing TV production company. "My father said the play was 'very well organized, very scientific."

Over the years, Son has written a half dozen plays. She continues to have a day job to pay the bills. But she seems to be at the point at which she can sustain herself by writing her own creations. She will do the screen adaptation of Stop Kiss. She is working on a new play for the Public Theatre. And she is writing a movie for Meg Ryan's production company.

At The West Wing, Son was a writer -- a day job that many aspiring writers/waitpersons/barristas would kill for. When Stop Kiss was highly praised in New York, she was writing "Star Trek" trivia questions for the Sci-Fi Channel. "On the day I should have been the toast of New York I was writing things like 'In what episode did Gene Roddenberry's wife become Captain Kirk's nemesis?' Everyone I knew was calling me to congratulate me. The phone was ringing every 20 seconds. And I had to let the machine answer it. I was busy with 'Spock says, "That is not logical!" a total of how many times?'"

Son feels at home in New York, where she and her husband have an East Village rent-controlled apartment. When Son's day job was managing computer equipment for NYU, she met interactive telecommunications major Robert Cosaboom. He went on to establish computer workshops in recreation centers in all five New York boroughs. They are now married.

"His family has been in this country for a long, long time," she says. "They are a mixture of every kind of white person. We have a sort of back-and-forth, New York/Los Angeles relationship."

Who understood that the structure was crucial to the effect of the story?

About the Play

(in the playwright's own words)

(It is a political play) in the sense that politics is a way of looking at events that happen to people. I would never personally say 'This is a play about homophobia. This is a play about gay bashing. This is a play about the civil rights of gays and lesbians in America.' I would describe the play as a love story." -Diana Son


Poster: Stop Kiss
Public Theatre 1998
"I've had the title for several years. I half-wrote a one-act many years ago in which one female friend kisses another when a tear is running down the friend's face. The friend is surprised, and the other woman says she was kissing the tear to stop it, to stop her friend from being upset. But the friend thinks it was more than that. And the question becomes, does the friend *want* it to be more than that? Do both of them? I never finished that play. But I continued to be interested in the blurry line between the emotional engagement two women can have and how it can be crossed into sexuality. The title as it applies to the current play called Stop Kiss means everything you think it means. I take that back. It does not mean they should not have kissed. Some people have interpreted it that way and I'm just stunned by it. Never crossed my mind it could be seen that way."

"I just wrote what scenes I thought would be in the play. Then after I had about 8, I lined them up in sequential order (I always knew the structure would go back and forth). Then I filled in the scenes that were missing in between. It was a new and I'd have to say, very productive way to work. I wrote the first draft in 6 weeks. I knew I wanted Callie and Sara's relationship to start at the beginning. But I was worried about how to write that scene. You know, a "getting to know you" scene where characters ask each other "So, where are you from?" and stuff like that which is terrible playwriting, terrible. I teach playwriting and I'd never let a student write a scene where the exposition was as obvious as that. So I thought, "How can I make this scene more interesting?" The first scene of the play used to be the scene where Detective Cole interviews Callie about the attack for the first time. It is now Scene 2. We changed the order of the first 12 scenes in previews."

I am consistently interested in the conflict between how other people identify you and the more complex way in which you know yourself." -Diana Son

"A lot of people assume I'm gay from the play. A lot of people assume I'm gay because I have short hair. A lot of people assume I'm gay because in the presence of gay women, I don't feel the need to establish my difference from them. I'm more interested in how people are alike and not different. And that expands to ethnicity, gender, etc. I was very honored to receive the GLAAD Media Award for Stop Kiss. I'm incredibly proud of that and in accepting the award, I promised to continue making work that GLAAD would be proud of. But I have recently encountered, now that the play has been out there for a year and a half, that there are some people in the gay and lesbian community who think that the message of Stop Kiss is "If you come out, you will get beat up." And I find that unfathomable. And I can't help but feel that this interpretation, which is more of an accusation really, would not be aimed at me if I were gay. There is suspicion of me--of what I'm using the play to say--because I'm not gay and therefore they assume I'm not responsible to the gay and lesbian community. The irony is that I DO feel responsible to the gay and lesbian community. In the sense that I consider carefully how I portray gay characters. If I had written a play in which a Korean American woman was beaten by a racist, would people think the message of my play was "If you're Korean American, you'll get beat up?" It's dramaturgically unsound. Because unquestionably the last beat of the play is: love wins.

"I am quite aware of the contrast between how you assume things are one moment, and how they can utterly, irrevocably change in the next."-Diana Son

"(I set out to write a romantic, not sensational female relationship and) that's the spirit with which I wrote the play and it's incredibly gratifying when I hear that that's how people experience it. There have been a few dissenting voices from the gay and lesbian community that this play isn't gay enough or political enough, or that I'm not gay enough to have written it. They are by far the minority voice but it's hurtful anyway. It's balanced by the number of gays and lesbians who appreciate that sexuality is represented within a story that is about living life more fully. It's been interesting for me to see subsequent productions of the play--I've seen 6 so far--particularly when I haven't been involved in rehearsal. There was one production directed by a man in which the kiss at the end was quite short. The lights faded on it quite quickly. And I had to say, "Hey. We need the kiss. We've earned it. Give us the kiss!" The premiere production was directed by a woman, Jo Bonney, and she staged a really lovely, yummy kiss. And tons of women--gay, straight, whatever--would say to me afterwards "GREAT kiss."

"Every producer I met with who was interested in making the play into the film said to me "You know, you can't keep the structure." They'd say film audiences aren't savvy enough to make sense of it." - Diana Son

"Well the funny thing about the screenplay adaptation--the producers and I are still discussing how to adapt it, I haven't started writing it yet--but the ironic thing is everyone kept saying how the structure of the play was so cinematic. And I thought it was so uniquely theatrical. What's to enjoy when the cutting back and forth is done in an editing room after it's been shot? The marvel of seeing it live is watching the actors, particularly the ones playing Callie and Sara, make those breakneck emotional transitions. You enjoy the actor's virtuosity, which you can't in film. The--I'd have to say somewhat bitter--irony is that every producer I met with who was interested in making the play into the film said to me "You know, you can't keep the structure." They'd say film audiences aren't savvy enough to make sense of it. "They don't want to work when they go to a movie." I did eventually choose a producer.

Critical Response

"Irresistibly exciting… a sweet, sad and enchantingly sincere play." The New York Times
Follow this link to the entire New York Times review. (You will need to register, but registration is free)

"We are amazed how fast we have come to trust this new playwright, Diana Son. We depend on her to respect the integrity of her unusually real, complicated female characters, and, in turn, her very smart and engaging new play." New York Newsday

"The writing on display here is funny and credible… you will be charmed by its heartfelt characters and up-to-the-minute humor." The Daily News

"A small wonder." The New Yorker

"Something as thought provoking and ultimately moving as Stop Kiss is a joy to experience." The Star Ledger

Resources

The script:
Diana Son,
Stop Kiss (Hardcover edition)
Overlook Press (November 1999)
ISBN: 0879517379

Diana Son,
Stop Kiss (Acting edition)
Dramatist's Play Service (June 1999)
ISBN: 0822217317

(Note: The above titles are in print and are available through Amazon.com and other on-line retailers)


Compiled by Daniel Yurgaitis
Posted: December 11, 2006
Copyright © 2006 by Northern State University , Aberdeen, SD