My boyfriend found my answers evasive on the way to Paseo Nuevo.
We were going to see Center Stage Theatre’s new production, “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” and he asked me, “I’m not going to like this play very much, am I?” Little did I know I wasn’t going to like it either.
The show is the product of actors Eial (one name only, like Cher or Madonna) and Jeffrey Flowers who approached director Jose Angel Santana with Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel turned film “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” While the two-man production is ambitious, the basic premise of the story – that imagination can transcend a difficult and punishing reality – is lost in the dialogue.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” is set in a prison. The novel was originally banned in Puig’s native Argentina, and was made into the 1986 film and the recent Broadway musical. This stage version limits the cast to its two primary characters: the weak but romantic window dresser, Molina, and the strong but tortured political prisoner, Valentin.
While Valentin wants nothing less than to change the world, the romantic Molina fantasizes about being leading lady in “her” own love story. Both men long to return to life outside of the prison and they develop a relationship that helps them transcend their cell.
The two actors never move past caricatures of the men. Eial dramatizes Molina buried in affectations as he constantly touches his wig or adjusts his kimono. This self-consciousness is supposed to translate as fragility but just reinforces the character’s false femininity: Eial is playing a drag queen playing Molina. Valentin’s grubby prison uniform, thin beard and made-up scabs stand in for the actor’s lack of physical performance.
The play is structured around the relationship between Molina and Valentin and that is where it fails. The chemistry between the actors is weak. It seems the director was unsure how to dramatize the transition from antagonistic cellmates to physically intimate.
In the book, the film and the musical, Molina’s retelling of his favorite movie is central. The storytelling in all previous productions is cinematic as the prisoners are no longer telling stories but escaping into film, identifying with the actors and the action. This does not translate into this two-man performance. We never experience the movie. This production confronts the audience with the sad grubby little cell, never allowing them to escape the prison. All that is left is Molina telling a story, badly.