Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kiss of The Spider Woman"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"Kiss of The Spider Woman"

by Manuel Puig
Directed by Jason White

Set Design by Hector Fernandez
Lighting Design by Benjamin Jacobson
Sound Design by Benjamin Jacobson
Stage Manager Lauren McCormack

Molina........................................Justin A. Crowley
Valentin .....................................Derry Woodhouse

Put two men in a cell with nothing to do but tell the plot of a favorite film, and watch the intimate details of their old lives seep out through hints and silences and subtexts. What if one of them is a fanatic revolutionary the warden is determined to humiliate and to break, the other a privileged prisoner hoping to hear a secret or two that could shorten his sentence. What if one is a macho man afraid he'll break or he'll die, the other tenderly mothering in spite of himself. What if Justin A. Crowley and Derry Woodhouse are delicately accomplished actors carefully directed by Jason White with an eye for detail and pacing. What results is engrossing theater.

There is music in this production of Manuel Puig's "Kiss of The Spider Woman" but none of it from that big Broadway extravaganza on which Terrence McNally taught himself to write musical books well enough to go on and outdo himself with "Ragtime". No, in this case it is carefully chosen old jazz tunes that may only be wafting through the mind of a swish window-dresser jailed because he approached the wrong boy. Even the Spider Woman of the title shows up here only at the end, as a beautiful metaphor.

Molina (Crowley) slowly spins out the plot of a movie called "The Panther Woman" --- adding bits of his own devising. He is trying to distract Valentin (Woodhouse) from the awful secrets of his mission, and from an embarrassing yearning for the flesh of his girlfriend. And the pressures of prison eventually make them strange bedfellows forced to see themselves honestly, intimately naked at last.

Each act here is a little less than an hour, each character both honestly revealing yet clenching to himself personal secrets. Benjamin Jacobson's lights blink from full to a shadowy blue whenever the prison's lights shut off. The warden's talks with Molina are recorded and their revelations add a whole extra dimension to the cramped conflict in the cell.

Does it change the play at all to hear Woodhouse's Limerick accent rather than the Argentinean tones of Puig's original story? Not a whit. As these mismatched prisoners while away their hours trying not to step over each other's emotional territories, the fact of their humanity transcends any such details. They converse mostly in hushed whispers, explaining themselves to one another, and ultimately to themselves. And, tastefully graphic as their intimacy becomes, it is that self-realization that packs the real power of this subtly nuanced production. It's a show richly deserving a broader audience than it attracted opening night.


"Kiss of The Spider Woman" (till 9 September)
Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide