Girls, Interrupted: Fourth Room Theatre production of Stop Kiss opens tonight

Stop Kiss rehearsal
Rachel Howell, Education Director at Fourth Room Theatre, runs through the script of “Stop Kiss” during a rehearsal in Old Brick. — photo by Rachel Jessen

Stop Kiss

Coralville Center for the Performing Arts
Aug. 29-30, and Sept. 5-7

It began as a way of saying good-bye to a friend.

Rachel Howell and Ottavia De Luca, two core members of Fourth Room Theatre, had a list of plays that they dreamed of working on together. The list lead to some projects becoming a reality, such as last year’s production of Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney’s Parallel Lives. When De Luca announced that she was going to be moving out of the Iowa City area, the members of Fourth Room Theatre decided to produce one more play from her and Howell’s list as a farewell performance.

On July 7, the performance given by Fourth Room Theatre in the downstairs common room of Old Brick was a staged reading of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss. When Sara (De Luca) moves to New York City to teach, seasoned New Yorker Callie (Howell) offers to show Sara around the city. Their friendship gradually turns into something more, leading the two women to share their first kiss—followed immediately by a catastrophic event that forces Sara, Callie, and everyone else in their lives to reexamine their relationships with one another. The play goes back and forth in the timeline, alternating between scenes happening before and after the kiss.

A staged reading typically involves actors reading their lines from scripts and rudimentary props and physical actions. The members of Fourth Room Theatre had not intended on expanding the staging or performing on future dates until cast member Eric Burchett, an employee at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, revealed that the stage at CCPA was available for performances at the end of August.

Director Kehry Anson Lane feels lucky, saying, “The space just fell in our lap.” The stage at CCPA is built for large-scale plays and musicals, complete with an orchestra pit and complex lighting and sound systems. Lane is drawing the action inward, taking the audience out of the 472 balcony and main floor seats and putting them on stage with the actors. Lane explains, “It is more of a ‘black box’ experience. I prefer to have the audience up close in an intimate setting.” He feels this is an appropriate choice for a play that he describes as “relatable” and “juicy for the actors and directors.” Lane also had to recast to make up for actors who were unavailable for the additional performances, with Brooke LeWarne stepping into the role of Sara.

Stop Kiss
Brooke LeWarne (left) and Rachel Howell fill the roles of Sara and Callie, respectively. — photo by Rachel Jessen

Stop Kiss premiered off-Broadway in 1998. Though only fifteen years have passed, it feels like the play was written in another world. It premiered before Lawrence v. Texas legalized same-sex sexual activity, before any state legalized same-sex marriage, before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and before this summer’s Supreme Court ruling that key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional.

Howell acknowledges that in the late 1990’s the message was “a little more risky,” but the core themes of the play are still relevant. “To me it is more about the connection that people have with each other,” says Howell. “I love that it is about unstoppable love. Love can be rough for a lot of different reasons.” For the members of Fourth Room Theatre their connection brings the grief of losing a valued member and friend from the local community, but they are able to honor her through bringing the community this touching production.

Performances of Stop Kiss will be at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts on August 29 and 30, and September 5-7. All performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, or $12 for students and seniors. To order tickets in advance, call (319) 248-9370 or visit