Camille Chang, Contributing Photographer

Yale’s first all-Latinx cast and production team will debut their production of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” on Feb. 23, marking the first North American and in-person showing of the play since the 1990s.

“The Kiss of the Spider Woman” is set in a prison during the “Guerra Sucia,” or “Dirty War” in Argentina, a time when the Argentine military dictatorship carried out a state terror campaign that imprisoned and killed thousands of civilians. The play was first written by Manuel Puig in novel form in 1976, just two years out from the start of the war. In 1983, he adapted the novel into a dramatic production. It features only two characters who are physically present on the stage — cellmates Molina and Valentín — along with two other off-stage voice actors. 

“The two characters have very different world views — I’d like people to walk away from the show understanding both,” said producer and lead actor Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24. “This is a story about two people who are in constant conflict. But if we’ve done our jobs well, both people are equally easy to empathize with.”

Bertrán Ramírez plays the role of Molina, a spirited character who is imprisoned for “corruption of a minor.” He noted that the two characters in the play act as interesting contrasts to each other, representing “two extremes of yearning for freedom,” with Valentín searching for political freedom and Molina searching for freedom of expression.

David DeRuiter ’24, acting opposite Bertrán Ramírez, plays Valentín, a political prisoner jailed for his involvement with an anti-government revolutionary group.

“While in the beginning they’re at odds with each other, their proximity in the cell brings them together” DeRuiter said. “Of course, they fall in love, but there is a journey to get there.” 

Bertrán Ramírez added that the conflict between the two characters’ personalities and backgrounds is a major part of the play, but that ultimately, its message is one of empathy and understanding. 

Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’24 marks his directorial debut with “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” crediting the creativity and energy of the cast and crew for making his job “really easy.” Lara Midkiff said that the show is necessary in the current moment, especially for its nuanced representation of Latin American experiences. 

“When [Latin America] is in focus for a lot of people in the United States, it’s draped in poverty and dirtiness,” Lara Midkiff said. “It couldn’t be further from the way we view ourselves and the people that I grew up with, and most recently, make theater with.” 

DeRuiter adds that the entirely Latinx cast and crew made as much of a difference in the rehearsal space as in the performances themselves. He emphasized the importance of a production where “everyone’s on the same page,” already familiar with the play’s context and underlying history. 

Bertrán Ramírez also emphasized the important role that the unity of the cast and crew played in producing the play. 

“I want people to know that Latinx-led theater at Yale is possible,” he said. “Working with so many talented people, many of whom are participating in theater for the first time, has been a joy.”

“Kiss of the Spider Woman” will be shown at the Saybrook Underbrook from Feb. 23 to 25. Tickets can be reserved here