A radical Communist martyr with a secret longing for a “woman with class” and a flamboyantly gay film lover with an Oedipus complex may seem unlikely bedfellows, but Emmanuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” brings two such characters together with tragic consequences.
“Spiderwoman” chronicles the relationship between two cellmates, Molina (Blake Edwards ’02) and Valentin (James DuRuz ’03), in a prison cell in Buenos Aires. Their communication begins with Molina, a self-described “flaming queen” and professional window dresser who is serving time for gross indecency, entertaining Valentin, a Marxist political prisoner, with a summary of his favorite movie. The narrative of the movie, about Irina, part-woman, part-panther, and her troubled relationship with her architect husband, runs parallel to the main plot of the play. Molina and Valentin are characterized by their reactions to the movie’s events and characters.
As their conversations, inspired by discussion of the movie, progress, we learn that Valentin is actually ambivalent about his willingness to give up his life for the “Revolution.” Molina, whose dream in life is to live happily ever after with a “real” masculine man, becomes Valentin’s trusted confidante (and, toward the end, sexual partner). It is not until the end of the first act that we discover Molina has agreed to inform on Valentin and his comrades to the prison guards, although out of care for Valentin he has so far avoided giving them any information.
Edwards goes a little overboard with his effeminate gestures and melodramatic facial expressions, making Molina seem more like a caricature than a character, but he plays him with such genuine emotion and pathos that we still sympathize with him. DuRuz’s Valentin is extremely believable and is revealed gradually and with subtlety. Director Wang Meiyin’s ’02 staging is sometimes awkward and the characters’ movements around the cell often come across as artificial, but their interactions are otherwise well engineered. The bleak, gray cell with its enigmatic painting of a woman (ostensibly the “spiderwoman” of the title) sets the lonely mood well, and the lighting, reminiscent of the films noir that Molina loves so much (especially in the final image of Valentin’s pained face), effectively conveys both mood and time passages — although the lighting changes are often too sudden and noticeable.
“Kiss of the Spiderwoman” is difficult to interpret, and its fragmented narrative style also makes it hard to follow, but Puig’s accomplished script makes it worth the effort.
Kiss of the Spiderwoman
Friday 7 p.m., 10 p.m.
Saturday 2 p.m., 8 p.m.