BWW Reviews: SSR's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Lacks The Heat and The Fear
A musical about imprisonment, homosexuality, fascist regimes, revolutionaries, morphine addiction and a movie star; must be Kander and Ebb because only they could pull it off so beautifully. But their "Kiss of the Spider Woman" is not often produced possibly due to its harsh themes but also that it's a very difficult show to stage and perform with its rich nuances. And while the current production at SecondStory Repertory has some wonderful performances, ultimately the choices and in some cases additions to the show made it lack the passion and danger the show needs to up the stakes of its story.
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig, we meet the denizens of a Latin American prison where the inmates are treated to daily doses of beatings and humiliation from the totalitarian officials. Amidst the hell of the prison is Molina (Ryan McCabe) a meek openly gay man serving his third year of an eight year sentence for corrupting a male minor. Due to his circumstance you can imagine the kinds of abuse he is subject to but when the darkness of the prison becomes too much he escapes into the movies in his mind especially ones starring his favorite cinema icon Aurora (Sari Breznau) who appears to him in times of need. Enter Valentin (Justin Carrell), a revolutionary who is being interrogated at the prison in order to get the names of his allies and topple the revolution. When he's first put in the cell with Molina the two could not be more at odds but eventually they form an unlikely bond that both rescues them and puts their lives in danger.
Director Billie Wildrick has done some lovely things with this beautiful show despite limited resources (especially space since the stage is not very big). The mood is quite dank and hazy and there are a few outstanding performances, but so many choices seemed out of place in this world she was trying to create. For example, the addition of a cadre of spider women to back up Aurora did a disservice to the part. One spider woman in a sea of men is sexy and mysterious. Multiple spider women dilute Aurora's power. Plus, much of the staging seemed to miss the meaning of the story they were trying to tell and in some cases only served to obscure the main characters either by other actors or set pieces. The costumes by Carmen Olemedo and John Allbritton for the most part accentuate the squalid conditions of the prison except for Molina's prison uniform as well as Valentin's t-shirt which look to have just been dropped off from the Prison Outlet Store and have never seen a day of torture in their lives. Plus for a sensual creature, much of the outfits for Aurora lacked any kind of sensuality. The light design from Alyssa Millione seemed to continually put people in the dark including, oddly enough, Aurora for half of her 11 o'clock number.
The cast does an admirable job and, as I said, there are a few outstanding performances. McCabe especially shines in the role. His voice is better than I think I've ever heard and he completely inhabits the part. And his scenes with another stand out, Bo Mellinger as Gabriel, brought in some of the rare tragically honest moments of the show. Carrell feels out of his depth for such a complex role. His voice is lovely but his performance feels forced and guarded. Breznau also sings the part well but lacked the sultriness and mystery the character needs to manage her otherworldly appeal which was not helped by the bizarre choice to have her do a trumpet solo in one number. The ensemble does a good job keeping things going but seemed under-rehearsed at times and also in the way in what should have been more solitary, quieter moments of the piece.
All told, the production feels like a misstep and doesn't do honor to a show that doesn't see as much play as it should. With my three letter rating system, and only due to those few standout performances, I'm forced to give SSR's "Kiss of the Spider Woman" a MEH.
"Kiss of the Spider Woman" performs at Second Story Repertory through April 13th. For tickets or information contact the Second Story Rep box office at 425-881-6777 or visit them online at www.secondstoryrep.org.