Jenny was my first kiss.”
That’s seasoned actress Missy Maramara sharing her vivid recollections from the original Manila staging of Stop Kiss, Diane Son’s celebrated.
Off-Broadway play about two women in love who found themselves on the receiving end of a vicious hate crime.
Jenny is, of course, the equally talented Jenny Jamora who co-headlined Stop Kiss when it was first staged by the New Voice Company in 2003. Although it turned out to be a turning point in their respective careers, both Missy and Jenny have fascinating memories about the production.
“It’s true. Jenny was my first female kiss. Back then I was really struggling with identity. What does it mean to love someone from the same gender? The play made me realize that regardless of gender, love is love is love,” quipped Missy who in the original production played Callie, a traffic reporter in New York City who falls in love with Sarah, a school teacher then portrayed by Jenny.
“We had a very niche crowd at Republic of Malate. But even back then, audience response was mixed, but I remember there was this lesbian group who watched us and were so responsive. They reacted strongly at certain scenes. There were lines that were so funny to them, it made us wonder, it made me wonder, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ Maybe there was something there,” she added.
Jenny admits she was a much different person when she first did Stop Kiss.
“To tell you the truth, I was such a self-centered actor back then, I don’t remember anything outside the play, I can’t recall how the audience reacted and I didn’t read the reviews,” she admitted.
“Now I’m in a loving relationship that’s been going on for three years but back then I had zero love life. I had to use my imagination to play out this relationship with Missy, who was in fact my second kiss. My first kiss was with a man in a play back in 1999. It was such an unsafe place; people knew it was my first kiss and he was so into it and audiences were heckling.”
Fortunately, Jenny did not have a similar experience with Stop Kiss as Monique Wilson as its director and did a lot more than just put her actors feel safe and at ease.
“We were so young and we were like Callie and Sara who are experiencing the world for the first time,” Missy mused.
“I was very sheltered, I didn’t read the papers, I was not politically involved. But now I produce plays like Desaparecidos. I met people like Missy and, of course, my training with Monique has helped me become more politically active,” Jenny added.
“It was really Monique’s experience that we fed off. Being an advocate of anti-violence against women, especially with the V-Day Movement, Monique, shaped us to the women we are, the advocates that we are.”
Over the years that followed, Stop Kiss remained close to the hearts of these two women as it continued to have a profound impact on their lives.
Missy who teaches in Ateneo, uses the play for scene studies and has, as early as about three years ago, asked Jenny to do this again with her. Jenny agreed but suggested that they switch roles this time.
“I thought it would be more interesting that way. I’m glad to say that it was the right choice,” Jenny pointed out.
Directed by a man
That’s not only the thing that’s different about this particular production. Although still produced by the New Voice Company, Monique is no longer involved in the production. Instead, Stop Kiss will be directed by Ed Lacson Jr., best known for his work in Himala The Musical.
“We invited a man to direct this play and Ed has been a dream director to work with. He brings a different and fresh perspective. And because he admits that he doesn’t have a woman’s mind, he always consults us and it becomes a dialogue and that’s what makes it so exciting,” Missy further noted.
As the prevalence of violence against members of the LGBTQ community remains alarming, the staging of Stop Kiss couldn’t have come at a better time. But while the relevance of Callie and Sara’s tragedy should resonate more with more than just a niche audience, it is equally important that its core, the play is simply an unforgettable romance.
“You can probably get the politics behind the play but onstage what should be given more emphasis is how much these two women love each other. I’m just glad to bring a more realistic experience this time. It really has to be so truthful that people have to see a human love story,” Jenny said.
Missy agrees. The actress believes as they did back in the original production, audiences are again likely to react strongly to The Kiss but only because of the increasing kilig factor.
“You want to root for these women. You want them to win. That’s why the play builds up to the kiss. At that point, the audience will just want to see Callie and Sara end up together,” she concluded.
Also featuring Tarek El Tayech, Gabe Mercado, Robbie Guevara, Jay Valencia-Glorioso and J-Mee Katanyag, Stop Kiss will run for two weekends from 12 to 14 July and then 19 to 21 July at Power Mac Center Spotlight at Circuit, Makati. For ticket information, visit www.ticket2me.net.