Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Passionate Production of
In its first incarnation, Kiss of the Spider Woman was a novel by Manuel Puig, El Beso de la Mujer Arana, published in Spain in 1976. The book was made into a film with the new title in 1978 and it starred William Hurt as Molina and Raul Julia playing the role of Valentin. Puig dramatized his novel for the stage in 1985 which debuted at London's Bush Theatre, and later a musical version was created with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. That version premiered in Toronto in 1992 and went to London where it won the London Evening Standard Drama Award for best musical. (Unfortunately Manuel Puig, who had helped collaborate with writer Terrence McNally in the workshop presentation, never saw the finish product since he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1990.) The Broadway premiere took place on May 3, 1993 at the Broadhurst Theatre with starring Brent Carver and Anthony Crivello, and the musical won seven Tony awards.
Manuel Puig's original drama, which was translated into English by Allan Baker, has been playing in various regional theatres in both this country and the U.K. for many years. The play is certainly apropos of the current condition of the world today.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is a sharply provocative tale of love, victimization and fantasy. The play opens in a prison cell somewhere in South America (although writer Puig said it was a prison in Argentina) where we see the two characters moving through their daily and nightly routines. There is storytelling, eating, and dreaming of the outside world. Molina (Javier Galitó-Cava), who is an effeminate homosexual window dresser incarcerated basically for being gay, shares a ceil with Valentin (Bradford Cooreman) a political prisoner who is a militant Marxist. At the start of the play, he is intolerant of Molina's way of life.
Molina loves movies, and his cinematic memories are reduced to one. To escape from the daily degradation of prison life he tells Valentin a serialized version of his favorite movie, Val Lawton's The Cat People. The retelling of the movie mesmerizes Valentin and the audience as well. The warden (heard but not seen) has coerced Molina into spying on Valentin in return for his freedom.
The two actors are especially fine-tuned at depicting the brotherhood of their relationship as each expresses a growing dependence on the other. Over the course of their confinement the two men fall in love and ultimately become lovers. Upon his release from prison, Molina agrees to help Valentin in his political cause by passing on important information to his fellow revolutionaries.
Javier Galitó-Cava, who has the showier role of Molina, does not overplay the flamboyance, making it seem to be a natural extension of his personality. He portrays the character quiet and unforced, imbued with maternal tenderness for his cellmate. It is a brilliant performance. As Valentin, Bradford Cooreman's gradual transition from bigotry to a reluctant inquisitiveness and finally to acceptance and even love for Molina is beautiful accomplished. The actor's physical appearance is strong and his up in arms political intelligence is completely believable.
Director Matthew Graham Smith allows the playwright's script to be the drama, and his blackout scenes are smooth. Lighting and sound by Ted Crimy are superb. The sound of the Prison Warden spoke by Christian Cagigal is very effective. Crimy gives the audience, seated only several feet away from the actors, the atmosphere of a prison. Bruce Walters has designed a realistic Latin American prison cell and Ambra Sultzbaugh's costumes add authentic style to the scenes.
Kiss of the Spider Woman runs through September 17 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco. For tickets please call their box office at 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org.