Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Also see Susan's review of The Reduced Shakespeare Company
Director Eric Schaeffer worked closely through the years with composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, who died in 2004, both on reworked versions of earlier shows (Cabaret, The Rink) and new ones (the problematic Over & Over). Kiss of the Spider Woman, with its dark allure, has always seemed like a good fit for the Signature sensibility, and Schaeffer is working with a dynamic cast and design team to create the illusion of life in the midst of death and despair.
In the bowels of a South American prison, conjured with great detail through Adam Koch's labyrinthine set, a human drama plays out between Valentin (Will Chase), a revolutionary, and Molina (Hunter Foster), a sensitive gay window dresser jailed for corrupting a teenage boy. At first hard-headed and determinedly realistic, Valentin soon discovers the comfort that Molina finds in fantasy, specifically conjuring up musical extravaganzas starring the elegant Aurora (Natascia Diaz).
Choreographer Karma Camp puts the small cast 11 performers, not counting the three leads through a workout on Koch's set with its multiple levels, spiral staircase and moving bridge. Chris Lee's lighting design is more subtle but full of imaginative touches, like the floor lights that delineate the walls of Molina and Valentin's cell, and the flickering "movie projector" effect that accompanies Aurora's appearances.
Foster's portrayal of Molina is surprisingly subtle: the character can be defiantly flamboyant, but Foster plays him more inward and deeply thoughtful, reducing the campier aspects to a toss of the head and a flashy red scarf. Chase conveys the burning intensity of a man who is determined to create a better world a fantasy that may be as naïve as Molina's stories of loving self-sacrifice. Diaz has the wide eyes and endless legs of a 1940s movie star, and she exudes glamour in Anne Kennedy's shimmering costumes. (It isn't obvious, but the look of the entire production is monochrome, with only fleeting bits of red.)
Jon Kalbfleisch once again conducts an orchestra that keeps up with all the twists and reversals in this serpentine plot.