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A serious 'Kiss' from Dignity Players

The Baltimore Sun

Stop Kiss, Dignity Players' current production, traces the evolving relationship of two young, single women pursuing careers in New York City. Relatively early in this one-act play, the audience is forced to consider the violence that results from a stranger witnessing the first tentative kiss between the two women.

Diana Son's 1998 play allows us to trace the progress of both women toward independence and self-discovery. They set out to make life commitments that become more pressing after their frightening confrontation with unprovoked violence.

In this demanding production, which requires instant scene changes and seamless moves back and forth in time, Dan Kavanaugh makes his impressive Dignity Players directing debut. Kavanaugh has chosen an excellent cast, and gets high marks for his selection of two female leads who are not the sylphlike creatures we're accustomed to seeing on stage.

Callie has lived for several years in a rent-controlled apartment and works as a radio traffic reporter. She has agreed to help Sara, recently arrived from St. Louis and living in an apartment where her cat is unwelcome. Callie and Sara get acquainted by discussing their living arrangements, boyfriends and favorite television shows - areas providing an urban humor reminiscent of Seinfeld. We learn that Sara has won an award that will enable her to teach a third-grade public school class in the Bronx.

Sara hardly realizes the late-night dangers lurking in her Bronx neighborhood. Far removed from the 1963 city depicted in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, this is a New York where parks are less charming and more fearsome.

The story is told in flashbacks, where the audience learns of Sara's increasing satisfaction from teaching, and her enthusiastic desire to explore the city and expand her social network through Callie's exciting business colleagues.

Callie's job requires her to monitor traffic from a helicopter. She is easily distracted and unable to concentrate on anything except restaurants and clothing. Her continuing relationship with former college chum and casual sex partner George underscores her reluctance to make commitments.

As Callie, Niji Ramunas conveys her character's detachment and her easy relationship with George, well-played by Chris Haley. Ramunas' Callie evolves after the vicious attack to assume a full commitment to Sara.

Shannon Benil inhabits Sara, conveying her strength and sharp focus, along with vulnerability and a touching disbelief at her fate after a stranger's hatred endangers her life. Benil's Sara also reveals unwavering dedication to her teaching career, despite her parents' wishes or those expressed by her former boyfriend, Peter.

Convincingly played by Thomas Byrne, Peter expresses conflicting emotions about his relationship with Sara and hers with Callie. He doesn't seem to understand Sara's fierce independence in directing her own life.

Strong in supporting roles are Kyle Bray as Detective Cole, who manages to bring warmth and interject some humor as he pieces the clues together, and Mary MacLeod, who plays both the witness who tries to stop the violent crime from her window and summons police and the nurse caring for Sara.

With Stop Kiss, Dignity Players closes a season dedicated to celebrating women. In Jean Anouilh's Antigone, a woman in ancient Greece defies a king. The musical Vanishing Point covers the accomplishments of three strong, 20th-century women, Amelia Earhart, Aimee Semple MePherson and Agatha Christie.

Stop Kiss continues this weekend with performances at 8 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis at 333 Dubois Road.

Reservations and information at dignityplayers. com or by calling 410-266-8044, ext. 127.

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