Monday, August 19, 2013
Theater review: Uptown Players produces a dazzling and urgent Kiss of the Spider Woman
The performances are beautifully realized and unforgettable.
OAK LAWN Based on Manuel Puig’s seminal novel of the same title, Kiss of the Spider Woman is an unconventional musical, originally written by Terrence McNally and the legendary duo: Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys) back when uncommon content was not so common. Before Assassins, The Book of Mormon, Next to Normal, and Avenue Q. Kiss is the story of how Molina and Valentin, cellmates in a squalid, horrific prison, bond in what would seem the most unlikely of scenarios and change each other’s lives. Like other musicals by Kander and Ebb, it explores the relationship (and fine distinctions) between myth and authenticity, escapism and torment, transgression and depravity.
Molina is a gifted window dresser for a posh department store, convicted for sex with a minor who lied about his age. Valentin is a political prisoner, arrested for subversive activity while fighting a despotic regime. Molina’s as campy as a Tennessee Williams’ heroine, and not above decorating his half of the space they share. Or going on endlessly about Aurora, his silver screen goddess and vicarious fix for Nightmare Prison Blues. He recites entire film scenarios to distract himself (and Valentin?) from the ghastly realities of torture, degradation and imminent death, that surrounds them every day. Valentin is the quintessential stoic, butch martyr. To him, Molina is a freak and affront to his values, a metaphor for bourgeois degeneracy.
Molina, so long deprived of company, talks to Valentin incessantly, despite his none-too-subtle hostility. In the midst of this animosity the warden, a stooge of The State, plots to use Molina’s longing to his advantage. So far Valentin has withstood beatings and abuse without divulging crucial information. Soon a moment comes when Molina’s natural tenderness redeems a moment that might have otherwise alienated straight friends. Kiss begins to examine the feelings that Valentin and Molina share, rather than what puts them at odds. They both love women, but differently and for different reasons. What follows is a series of events that fulfills Molina’s most fanciful romantic desires, perversely and heroically combining idealism with retribution.
Throughout this bizarre narrative, with a nearly all-male cast, grungy, rough trade dancers and tangoing orderlies, is Aurora, the glamorous, urbane cinema goddess who is versatile, alluring, but also poised to assume her role as the Spider Woman at any given moment. She embodies the recklessness that comes so easily with intense intimacy and adoration. The problem (as Valentin might point out) is that life does not always oblige us with the closure we find at the movies. The Spider Woman imparts the grace of altruism and the sting of loss.
Mikey Abrams (Molina) John Campione (Valentin), and Linda Leonard (Aurora/Spider Woman) et al, deliver powerful, deeply felt, focused and glowing performances, beautifully realized and unforgettable. When serious, devoted actors converge to ignite grown up theatre for grown ups, this is the marvelous result. Dangerous, twisted, melancholy, pulse-pounding, ironic spectacle. Dazzling and urgent.
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
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