The Kiss Of The Spider Woman

September 13, 2018

in Musicals, Plays

Musical (1993)
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
based on the novel (1976) by Manuel Puig

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone
Music Director: Dan Rodriguez

Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square area
August 31 – October 7, 2018

With Eddy Cavazos (Molina), Taavon Gamble (Valentin), Lisa Yuen (Spider Woman / Aurora), Luis Negron (Warden), Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda (Molina’s mother), Katrina Zofia (Marta), Ricardo Holguin (Gabriel)

Eddie Cavazos as Molina, Taavon Gamble as Valentin in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

Eddie Cavazos as Molina
Taavon Gamble as Valentin
in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”
Photo: Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

A webful of wonderful performances in the musical based on the celebrated novel two Argentinian prisoners, one of whom is a political activist, and one of whom is gay and has an obsession with movies.

Valentin (Taavon Gamble), a political prisoner under the repressive Argentinian regime of the 1970s, is thrown in a cell with Molina (Eddy Cavazos), a gay guy who has been arrested in a sting in which he has tried to pick up a plainclothes cop pretending to solicit gay sex. The warden (Luis Negron) of the jail tries to con Molina into informing on Valentin by reporting on political contacts on the outside he might have mentioned in passing. Witnessing torture applied to other prisoners, Molina is threatened by the fear of punishment and lured by freedom dangled before him by the warden to betray his cellmate. Superficially, Molina seems like a pushover, but his growing love for Valentin continues to keep him from yielding.

The straightforward plot of this dark but fanciful musical – a gay guy and a politico in a cell together with the constant lure of betrayal – is enough to keep one engaged while its various production numbers keep one well entertained. The book by Terrence McNally has streamlined the general outline of the book (1976), and the popular film (1985) starring William Hurt and Raul Julia based on it, to produce a stinging, cogent drama. The story effectively transplants novelist Manuel Puig’s major fascinations – politics and movies – and his own homosexuality – to the context of a prison and pits all of them against one another. McNally’s script fine tunes the oppositions and brings the questions of love, fidelity, betrayal and moral strength into sharp focus.

The script is full of catchy bons mots and keeps one alert with its witticisms. You go to hell says Valentin to Molina who responds we’re already there. Molina offers Valentin the gentle advice on managing prison life: you have to learn not to be where you are, a reference, as well, to his active alternative cinematic imagination. Valentin then argues: your movies are not real. Molina counters: they’re better than real. When Valentin pointedly remarks that Molina does not have a cause, Molina counters, pricelessly, that he doesn’t have a cause but has a mother who needs him.

Valentin: You go to hell!
Molina: We’re already there!

Valentin: Your movies aren’t real!
Molina: They’re better than real!

Valentin: You don’t have a cause!
Molina: I don’t have a cause but I have a mother who needs me!

And there are poignant moments, such as when Molina has been taken away for awhile and returns to his shared cell and asks whimsically whether Valentin had missed him and Valentin responds: actually, I did. Simple, to the point, but effective.

Director and choreographer Rachel Bertone has done a superlative job of staging the musical in a way that makes sense for the condensed setting of the Lyric Stage. Choreography is continually inventive and eloquently conceived, and the performances Bertone draws out of her principals are compelling. The Morphine Tangos, done with a trio of orderlies, are beautifully done and hilarious.

At first I thought Eddy Cavazos’ Molina a bit too swish, but his performance really grew on me. He plays the part with a lot of heaving, sighing and stylized gesturing, but does so in a way that makes it not seem put on; the performance garners a lot of well-deserved empathy. His singing, in the solo Mama, It’s Me, and throughout, is compelling.

As Valentin, Taavon Gamble is dignified, heroic, torn, agitated, and a perfect foil for Cavazos’ Molina. As a result, one really gets the chemistry of personality between them – beautifully opposed personalities but drawn by trying circumstance into one another’s orbit. Gamble’s voice is hauntingly reedy and convincing, making its strong points in numbers like The Day After That, a song about impoverishment.

As the Spider Woman, Lisa Yuen is just great – slinky, sultry, omnipresent, alluring, enveloping – just as one would want her to be. As an an imaginative savior to Molina, a goddess of his invented movie script, she weaves magic and hits the mark.

All three principals sing beautifully, and do so in multiple solos and harmonic arrangements.

As Gabriel, a waiter with whom Molina has had a flirtation, Ricardo Holguin does a brief, but wonderful, job, an adds to the musical harmonies persuasively in Gabriel’s Letter. Likewise, as Marta, Katrina Zofia, and as Molina’s mother, Johanna Carlisel-Zepeda, step in to add poignant turns and beautiful musical contributions.

Overall, a wonderfully executed version of the typically dark and wry Kander and Ebb material, itself very well suited to the dark and wry Puig narrative.

Lisa Yuen as The Spider Woman in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

Lisa Yuen as The Spider Woman
in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”
Photo: Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

– BADMan

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