After seeing Diana Son's play "Stop Kiss" in London, Russell Stiles carried a copy of the script with him for several years in search of a local venue. Enter stage right: The Church in the Middle of the Block.
"Beautiful" and "intimate," Stiles said of the space at the former Second United Brethren Church, Altoona, which was turned into a creative space for the arts and home to its resident theater company, Things Unseen Theatre.
Stiles, a teacher at Hollidaysburg Area High School, is directing "Stop Kiss," which will open at 8 p.m. Friday.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Courtney Sherkel of Altoona (left), portraying Callie, acts with Haley Hawk of Hollidaysburg, portraying Sara, in the opening scene of “Stop Kiss.” The play is a production of the Things Unseen Theatre group.
The play, which was first performed in 1998, according to the Asian American Theatre website, is about two women from different worlds meeting in New York City, Stiles said. After a growing attraction, main characters Callie and Sara, who both have boyfriends, fall in love. After their first kiss, they are brutally attacked.
The play is arranged like a television drama, said Courtney Sherkel, 26, of Altoona, a second-grade teacher, who plays Callie. It goes back and forth between life before and after the attack, Stiles said.
Valerie Stratton, production manager and the theater's co-artistic director along with Jody Hesley, said that after the attack, Callie becomes the comatose Sara's caretaker, and she accepts the role with open arms. Stratton said one of the messages of the play is to accept those we love through life's ups and downs.
If you go
What: "Stop Kiss," a play by Diana Son
Where: The Church in the Middle of the Block, 217 Fifth Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 1 and 2; 1 p.m. Feb. 1.
Tickets: $12, and $10 for students and seniors. Available at Thompson Pharmacies and at the door.
Details: The play uses strong language that some may find offensive. For information, call 934-3504 or 515-0056 or visit www.things
Haley Hawk of Hollidaysburg, 30, a former student of Stiles and a dentist, plays Sara. She said her character led a passive life for several years, but then started doing what she wanted for once. The character encourages Callie to do likewise.
Sherkel said she once lived in New York City, and based her portrayal of the character on the people she lived and worked with there.
Stiles feels fortunate to direct Hawk and Sherkel. He said he thought of them for the parts.
"It makes my job so easy," Stiles said. "Normally, I'm teaching. Here, I'm watching great actors work at their craft."
A show with an "amazing script" and "incredible actors" is a rarity, and Stiles is grateful for his involvement.
The play is not about lesbians or gay people "per se," but about commitment to another person, Stiles said.
"'Stop Kiss' is about loving and the consequences of loving - both wonderful and terrifying, both heartwarming and heartbreaking," he said. "Through humor and ordinary interactions, important questions are asked: When do we risk our personal safety for the sake of speaking our truth? What happens when our hearts are open to another person? Taking risks - both personal and emotional - is at the core of Diana Son's deceptively simple play."
Stiles has seen fear and prejudice at local high schools and colleges with results that are "hurtful and destructive."
"We discover through this story, that if you make a personal commitment, you also take a stand," he said, "and all because of a single kiss."
Sherkel wants the audience to leave with the idea that "love comes in many different forms," she said.
"At it's core, it's a love story. It's sweet and sad," Hawk said. "That's something everyone can relate to."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.