Kiss Of The Spider Woman
Spins An Interesting Web
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The Lyric Stage Company in Boston has kicked off its 44th season with the rarely produced Kander and Ebb musical Kiss Of The Spider Woman. The play, with book by Terence McNally, is based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel and the movie that followed. The Tony Award winning musical first appeared in 1993. This production is directed by Rachel Bertone who helmed last years wonderful Gypsy at the Lyric.
The story, which takes place in an Argentine prison, revolves around Molina (Eddy Cavazos), a gay window dresser who has been imprisoned for “corrupting a minor”, and Valentin (Taavon Gamble), a Marxist revolutionary, who has been sent to jail for his political activities. Valentin is initially tortured and then tossed into a cell with Molina who nurses him back to health. Upon regaining consciousness, Valentin draws a line down the center of their shared cell marking of each’s territory (I Draw The Line). He clearly is not comfortable with the gay Molina.
Molina has learned to cope with the horrific conditions of being in prison by escaping in his mind to the movies he used to see when he would accompany his mother (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda) to the cinema she worked in. One actress occupies his mind, Aurora (Lisa Yuen), whose movies he replays over and over in his head. We meet Aurora in the opening number Aurora.The one role she played that terrifies him is when she played a spider woman who kills with her kiss. As we see Molina and Aurora, through his imagination reenacting scenes from her movies, the character of the spider woman reappears over again as the haunting kiss of death that the prisoners live with everyday.
While Molina is apolitical, Valentin sees in his life a mission to change society. The two learn from one another, with Valentin it is begrudgingly, and eventually form a bond that turns into love.
The set is provocative as it reaches out to the audience giving a feeling of bringing everyone into the prison. Lighting and shadows on the floor alternate between a spider web and the outline of prison bars. It is subtle yet effective.The off stage screams of prisoners being tortured is unsettling, as it should be, and adds to the feeling of hopelessness Molina and Valentin feel.
This was my first time seeing a production of Kiss Of The Spider Woman, and my take away is it is a work that is very dependent on having the right people in the roles in order for it to work. Eddy Cavazos is superb as Molina. His body language speaks as much to the audience as do his lines. He moves about the stage with a patience that proves very effective for conveying the depth of the character of Molina. Watching Molina as he copes with the misery and suffering around him, and that is inflicted on him, we also see how he learns to understand his value as a human being. This is a role that could easily be overplayed, but Mr. Cavazos resists that temptation.
Of course, this is not a one person show, and Taavon Gamble has his work cut out for him as Valentin, the angry young man who feels he will never get the chance to save the world. Valentin, who wants equal rights for all is confronted with having to face his own problems, now is having to share a cell with a gay man. Can he retain his masculinity while at the same time having feelings and caring for a gay man? It is where he learns we are defined not by what we are but rather by who we are. Mr. Gamble has done a marvelous job in bringing so many conflicting emotions to the stage in a way that we can understand them and share in his growing affection for Molina.
Lisa Yen is Aurora and she sparkles in numbers such as Aurora and Let’s Make Love. She is also haunting as the spider woman who is the ever present shadow of death. Ms Yen is joined by Katrina Zofia, who plays Valentin’s girlfriend Marta, on the song I Do Miracles.
Molina’s mother is played by Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda. Her rendition of You Could Never Shame Me is a touching and moving love song showing a mother’s unconditional love for her son.
While Kiss Of The Spider Woman is a story with much darkness and horrific situations, the tension is broken in the same way Molina has learned to escape from his misery; through the imagining of Aurora’s performances and show tunes, which are excellent. These breaks are much needed and make the story bearable. It is also much in the tradition of Kander and Ebb to take such dark stories and make them palatable. We can witness the suffering and misery while not being overwhelmed by it. That enables us to try to understand it and find ways to prevent it, or at least get through the suffering in life.
Today, almost everything is viewed through a political lens, particularly in theatre, and this play is political. While many will look to find comparisons with what happens in the play with what is happening in our society, it might be a good idea to look a bit further away and a bit closer to where the play is set. In Argentina there is some good news, three decades of Kirchener rule may be coming to an end, while in Venezuela the Marxist government has left the once prosperous country in a state where people are now starving to death. Cuba is still very much a prison island lacking basic human rights. Perhaps Valentin will reconsider his Marxist views in light of all this. I hope so, as he has the drive to do much good.
Kiss Of The Spider Woman
Through October 7
The Lyric Stage, Boston