Do The Dance, But Beware Of Her Kiss

Today, we went to see a musical about political prisoners, and how the government tortures them to get the information they want. This government also believes that homosexuality is wrong, and has a vendetta to put gay men that look at min0rs in jail. No, we didn’t go to North Hollywood Arts Center to see the return engagement of “Bush Is Bad: Alaska Beauty Queen Edition”. Rather, we went to the Havok Theatre in the Westlake District of Los Angeles to see the Kander-Ebb musical “The Kiss of the Spider Woman”. It too was timely, but dark.

The Kiss of the Spider Woman” is a 1993 Tony-award winning musical (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book) with book by Terrance McNally and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, based on the Manuel Puig novel. The story (adapted from the Wikipedia entry) centers on Luis Alberto Molina, a gay window dresser, who is in a prison in a unnamed Latin American country, serving his third year of an eight-year-sentence for corrupting a minor. He lives in a fantasy world to flee the prison life, the torture, fear and humiliation. His fantasies turn mostly around movies, particularly around a vampy diva, Aurora. He loves her in all roles, but one scares him: This role is the spider woman, who kills with her kiss. One day, a new man is brought in his cell: Valentin Arregui Paz, a Marxist revolutionary, already in a bad state of health after torture. Molina cares for him and tells him of Aurora. But Valentin can’t stand Molina and his theatrical fantasies and draws a line on the floor to stop Molina from coming nearer to him. Molina, however, continues talking, mostly to block out the cries of the tortured prisoners, about Aurora and his mother. Valentin at last tells Molina that he is in love with a girl named Marta. After taking care of Valentin for a while, the prison director announces to Molina that his mother is very ill and that Molina will be allowed to see her. Condition: He must tell the name of Valentin’s girlfriend. Molina tells Valentin about his love: A waiter named Gabriel. Only a short while afterwards, Molina gets hallucinations and cramps after knowingly eating poisoned food intended for Valentin. He is brought to the hospital ward, talking to Aurora and his mother. As Molina is brought back, Valentin starts suffering from the same symptoms, also from poisoned food. Molina is afraid that Valentin will be given substances that might make him talk and so protects Valentin from being taken to the hospital. As Molina nurses him, Valentin asks him to tell him about his movies. Molina is happy to do so; Valentin also shares his fantasies and hopes with Molina. Molina is allowed a short while at the telephone with his mother, back he announces to Valentin that he’s going to be freed for his good behaviour the next day. Valentin begs him to do a few telephone calls for him, Molina at first refuses, but Valentin knows how to persuade his cell mate. Molina is brought back the next day, heavily injured. He has been caught in the telephone call, but refuses to tell whom he has phoned. The warden draws his pistol, threatening to shoot him, if he doesn’t tell. Molina confesses his love to Valentin and is shot. Aurora bends over him and gives her deadly kiss.

As you can see, this is a very dark plot. It is certainly unclear what the audiences of 1993 thought of it: we were in the Clinton administration, and the outlook was sunny. Today, the plot makes a little more sense in the context of Gitmo and the way some groups want to treat gays these days (oh, by the way, vote No on 8). There are even echoes of our current political battles in it. Still, it is difficult to ascertain the point that the authors wanted to make. Were they saying that to escape to a fantasy world can help one make it through the hard times (the John McCain point of view)? Were they saying that one can make it through by knowing the world will get better tomorrow, or the day after that (the Barack Obama point of view)? Were they just trying to make the point that love can make one strong, and that we can sometimes find our internal courage through love? It is hard to say, and that is what makes this a difficult musical.

However, there is one that that is not difficult to figure out, and that is that Nick DeGruccio is a great director. He took this complicated and difficult show, and made it a thing of beauty, especially in the converted braissere factory that is the Havok Theatre. Under his direction, the actors do remarkable things, and achieve a level of depth of characters one rarely sees. Of particular note in the cast were the three leads: Terra C. Macleodæ as Aurora/Spider Woman, Chad Bordenæ as Molina, and Daniel Tataræ as Valentin. All were strong and remarkable singers and dancers, in particular Borden as Molina. Others in the remarkable cast were Ed F. Martinæ (Warden), Eileen Barnettæ (Molina’s Mother), Zarah Mahler (Marta), Alex Alvarez (Marcos), Che Rodriguez (Esteban), Salvatore Vassalloæ (Gabriel/Prisoner), Shell Baumanæ (Fuentes/Prisoner), Hector Guerreroæ (Observer/Emilio/Prisoner), Jeffrey Parsons (Religous Fanatic/Prisoner), Mike A Motroni (Aurelio/Prisoner), and Oskar Rodriguez (Escapee/Prisoner).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Also remarkable was the technical staff. The movement and dancing (under the choreography of Lee Martino) was spectacular. The scenic design (by Tom Buderwitz) consisted of a prison of metal tubing and bars, with two beds on a rolling platform front and center. I was also taken with the lighting design of Steven Young, who turned the former factory into a remarkable prison, combining well placed overhead and floor lights, moving mirror lights, projected shadow images (gobos, according to nsshere), and a series of lights around the bed. Truly fantastic. Sound design was by Drew Dalzell assisted by Rebecca Kessin. The production had a 5-piece orchestra that sounded much larger, with Musical Direction by Michael Paternostro, assisted by Steven Ladd Jones, who also served as conductor. The stage manager was Lara E. Nall.

The following is a YouTube video giving you a taste of the production:

Kiss of the Spider Woman” continues at the Havok Theatre until Sunday, October 26, 2008.

Dining Note: Dinner after the show was at one of our favorite coffee shops on that side of the hill: Fred 62 on Vermont near Los Feliz.

As for us, our next show is on Saturday October 25 @ 2pm when we see “The King and I at Cabrillo Music Theatre (alas, nsshere may be unable to make it due to a Speech and Debate competition, we’re looking still forward to seeing youarebonfante after the show, as she is managing the production). Saturday November 1 @ 8pm brings “Blood Brothers – The Musical” at the Whitefire Theatre. On 11/8, we’re seeing “Into The Woods” at the Lyric Theatre in Hollywood. The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. 11/21 brings “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson. Friday 11/28 brings the last show of the RepEast season, “And Then There Were None”. December 4th and 5th brings “Scapino” at Van Nuys High School (with nsshere doing the lighting). Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.