Chicago Theatre Review
Kiss of the Spider Woman
“The nicest thing about being happy is that you never think you’ll be unhappy again” is Molina’s response to finding love among the horrors of imprisonment in Latin America. The gay window dresser has been arrested for his (innocent) involvement with a minor, but has emotionally escaped his inhumane treatment through his fantasy world of films, starring movie diva Aurora, the titular “Spider Woman.” In one of many memorable film scenes through which the musical transports us, Aurora’s character is a black widow spider whose kiss marks her victims for death.
Into Molina’s world that juxtaposes fright with fantasy comes Valentin, a new prisoner being held and tortured for his radical political beliefs. The two could not be more dissimilar, but throughout the play a friendship evolves that turns into love. To say more would ruin the surprises found in this dark Kander and Ebb 1993 Tony Award-winning musical, based upon a novel by Manuel Puig. What emerges is a story about hope and the strength and perseverance of the human spirit.
Peter Marston Sullivan’s direction is strong and sensitive. His production shines through the play’s darkness, strongly advocating his theatre’s mission statement of “innovative storytelling…examining truth, beauty, freedom and love through the lens of human relationships.” Talented Linda Fortunato’s celluloid-stylized choreography is sharp and well-executed, effectively utilizing the theatre’s modest space. Seated on three sides, the audience forms the prison’s walls, while the small orchestra remains hidden beyond a fourth curtain. A great deal of this production’s power comes from Patrick Ham’s somber two-story set, lined with prison cells, staircases and movie screens, and provocatively lit by Diane Fairchild. Their combined artistry creates an atmosphere in which both reality and fantasy can flawlessly exist side-by-side.
Nathan Carroll is captivating as Molina. What at first seems a bit over-the-top, even for musical theatre, becomes logical as this talented young man masks his fear and pain with gay flamboyance. With wild abandon, Carroll throws himself into each fantasy scene, emotionally turning on a dime to scenes of panic, passion and pathos. Like the entire cast, Mr. Carroll possesses a gorgeous singing voice that allows him to vocally soar, especially with co-star Evan Tyrone Martin, as Valentin. Their scenes together show a steadily evolving relationship that moves from revulsion to acceptance and, finally, to dependance.
The supporting ensemble features the marvelous Jessica Kingsdale as Marta, Valentin’s girlfriend, and the exquisitely talented Sean Knight as Molina’s love interest, Gabriel. Both transcend their roles with beautifully crafted, empathetic characterizations and stellar musicality. The mostly male ensemble are all strong singers and dancers providing appropriate color and support.
As someone once wisely said, “Happiness is in the heart, not in the circumstances.” In a musical that may not appeal to every taste, this adage shines forth like a candle in the darkness in a world in need of light and love.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 1-30 by Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-975-8150 or at www.BoHoTheatre.com.
Further information regarding this and other productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com