DENTON -- Diana Son's Stop Kiss was the most conventional play of the 2010-11 season for Denton's Sundown Collaborative Theatre when it was announced last year, among works by Jean Genet, Sarah Kane, and the team of Joseph Chaiken and Sam Shepard.
Still, it's anything but well-made. The story of traffic reporter Callie (Tashina Richardson) and third-grade teacher Sara (Danielle Trudeau), friends who fall in love, is structured so that the main incident -- they are gay-bashed in a New York park after their first kiss -- happens at the end.
What leads to that and what happens after play out in alternating scenes -- perhaps too many. In the before scenes, Sara, having moved from St. Louis for a job at a public school in the Bronx, gets a referral to Callie as someone who can temporarily take care of her cat, which isn't allowed in the small apartment Sara shares with two other people.
They are clearly opposites, with Sara prone to confrontation and Callie taking every opportunity to avoid it. But slowly, their friendship grows into something more. We also meet Callie's boyfriend, George (Nick Ross), Sara's former beau Peter (Aaron Sanchez), as well as police, witnesses and hospital staffers.
Son's play debuted off-Broadway in 1998, with Sandra Oh as Sara, and has had a steady production history nationwide, often at colleges. Perhaps because Sundown's production, directed by Tiffany Hillan, happens in an intimate studio space at Texas Woman's University and the Sundown crew is made up largely of current and recent UNT and Texas Woman's students, this production has an unpolished, educational-theater feel.
Actors don't always reflect the characters' ages, and the setup in this space leads to awkward scene transitions that slow down momentum.
Richardson relies on obvious and quirky mannerisms too early but then settles into the role. Trudeau has the kind of lovely honesty that gives big-name performers reputations as actors rather than celebrities (think a younger Laura Linney type).
The chemistry between them works, and although we know early on what happens, the journey as they discover it is organic and keeps us engaged.