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Boston by Lindsey Wilson

Kiss of the Spider Woman

It's All True
Brendan McNab and John King
If I were to be trapped in a Latin American prison, I would definitely choose John King as my cellmate. King’s flouncing, mincing, prancing yet astonishingly heart-breaking turn as Molina in SpeakEasy’s Kiss of the Spider Woman ultimately steals the show - no small feat when the remainder of the production puts up an awfully good fight.

Seen most recently tapping his way through Overture Productions' On the Twentieth Century as Conductor Flanagan and last spring as playboy Bobby in the Company Theatre’s Company, King is once again given a golden opportunity to display his versatility. His Molina is a chatty queen balancing precariously between snappy quips and desperate insecurities, simultaneously beaming and breaking.

Kander and Ebb’s 1993 musical (with libretto by Terrance McNally and based on the novel by Manuel Puig) throws two unlikely cellmates - Valentin, a macho political prisoner, and Molina, a flamboyantly gay window dresser - together in a decrepit and corrupt Latin American prison. To pass the time, preserve their sanity, and shut out the tortured screams of their fellow inmates, Molina entertains Valentin by recounting scenes from his favorite films, all of which feature the mysterious and glamorous B-movie actress Aurora.

As Aurora/the Spider Woman, Christine A. Maglione possesses the voice (echoed eerily by talented sound designer Matt O’Hare), the dancing prowess, and the requisite supernatural aura. However, for all the flash and glitter that come with her character, Maglione occasionally suffers from a dead-eyed calm. This doesn’t condemn her performance, but merely puts a wall between her and the audience precisely when there should be none.

Brendan McNab’s Valentin falls victim to this, too, wallowing in his stoic masculinity to the extent of disappearing into the filthy floor. And for all the testosterone he touts, McNab’s voice proves thin when paired with the lush and sultry tones of King and Maglione. McNab is so intent on playing the straight man to King’s Molina that he often lags behind in emotion, saying the words without wholly expressing them.

Delivering highlighted performances are Boston favorites Veronica Kuehn, Sean McGuirk, and Beth Gotha. It’s refreshing to see Kuehn finally play a character without the title “Little” preceding it, and she brings tenderness and fluid vocals to the rather thankless part of Marta. McGuirk relishes his villainous turn as the sadistic Warden, and Gotha is both poignant and precious as Molina’s movie usherette Mother.

Spider Woman is especially stunning to look at, employing a turntable-based jail cell (designed by Eric Levenson) that the actors climb like a jungle gym. Deft staging by director Paul Daigneault extends into and behind the audience, utilizing balconies, second-tiers, and aisles that contribute to the sensation of confinement. The hidden eleven-piece orchestra, conducted by Paul S. Katz, delights with the jarring and seductive strains of the score.

Sharp and blossoming lighting by John R. Malinowski either exposes the stark cruelties of the prison or glides playfully over Aurora’s bejeweled costumes. Those spangled wonders are the work of Seth Bodie, and to his credit each entrance of the Spider Woman/Aurora was met with breathless gasps from the audience as they drank in the elaborate and outrageous ensembles.

Still, despite being titled Kiss of the Spider Woman, this production belongs to King and his Molina. Whether leaning against the prison bars with his long limbs wrapped coyly around himself, beaming with childlike exuberance at Aurora while she dances only for him, or exposing raw, shattered fear at the thought of losing Valentin, King never wavers in his believability. When King is paired with the other considerable talents on and off stage, this Kiss of the Spider Woman weaves a spectacular web.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Through December 3
Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts
Roberts Studio Theatre, 527 Tremont St.
For tickets: 617-933-8600 or www.BostonTheatreScene.com.

Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo


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- Lindsey Wilson



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