The evolving friendship between two women seems like something that could be handled through straightforward storytelling, but Diana Son's "Stop Kiss" has numerous short scenes that constantly jump around in time. Although the Fells Point Corner Theatre production of this Asian-American playwright's drama is never confusing, its scrambled chronology seems needlessly fussy.
Most time-jumping plays or movies tend to make such leaps over a considerable span of time, but "Stop Kiss" goes back and forth within a single year, 1994, and a single city, New York. It's admittedly intriguing to witness these out-of-sequence slices of a relationship, because you're left feeling that each scene is a puzzle piece that you hope eventually matches up with other pieces. Even so, you're also left wondering whether this character study wouldn't work just as well told in chronological order.
Regardless of the storytelling method you'd personally prefer, the basic situation is easy to grasp. Callie (Ann Turiano) is a traffic reporter for a New York radio station. When she isn't flying over the city in a helicopter at rush hour, she seems fairly comfortable in her apartment.
She has an unconventional romantic relationship with her boyfriend of sorts, George (Christopher Jones), that leaves them free to see other people and then, er, report back home. Callie hates her job, loves George in her own way, and mostly seems like she is settled in the big city.
Answering a rent-sharing advertisement to share Callie's apartment, Sara (Samrawit Belai) is new to the big city. Until recently a teacher at a private school in St. Louis, she idealistically has taken a job at a public school in New York City. If she initially comes across as being slightly naive, she soon makes it clear that she's open to new experiences. Sara left a boyfriend, Peter (Steve Ferguson), back in St. Louis.
The playwright does a fine job of showing how these two young women go from being strangers to being friends. Son's psychologically nuanced writing ensures that you care about Callie and Sara; and the capable actors in these roles also do their part. Thank goodness that's the case, because all those brief scenes jumping back and forth throughout the year otherwise can get on your nerves.
Another thing that keeps your attention and sympathy with these characters is that a violent incident best discovered for yourself provides a compelling dramatic spine for the play. Callie and Sara already have enough anxiety over whether to take their friendship in a romantic direction, but that incident makes life even more complicated for them.
The story also involves several supporting characters, whose psychological profiles are developed with varying degrees of complexity by the playwright. These characters generally would benefit from a more detailed biographical presentation, but they do manage to advance a story that's constantly advancing and retreating.
Some of the acting in these supporting roles has a slightly tentative quality, which surely is in part the result of the actors trying to rapidly make emotional adjustments in the nonchronological storytelling. It's inevitable that director Jay Gilman and the cast sometimes aren't able to make this stop-and-go narrative flow smoothly, but fortunately the central relationship survives a rather bumpy ride.
"Stop Kiss" runs through Oct. 13 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann Street in Fells Point. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Thursday shows Sept. 20, 27 and Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows Sept. 23 and 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12- 17. Go to http://www.fpct.org.