This small but highly ambitious production of Kiss of the Spider Woman delivers everything it promises.
The show, based on a novel by Manuel Puig and from the same stable as Cabaret and Chicago, centres on Molina, a gay window dresser, and his cellmate Valentin, a revolutionary Marxist.
This classic odd couple pairing beautifully illustrates the disparate elements that become ‘undesirable’ in a fascist regime, after both find themselves on the wrong side of the authorities, but for very different reasons.
Molina, a ‘cineaste’ since he was in his mother’s womb (she was a cinema usherette, and her presence is strong throughout), has a rich fantasy life around Aurora, his favourite actress.
His coping mechanism of escaping into a movie when real life in a rat-infested prison cell takes hold, results in regular appearances by Aurora, singing wistfully behind a curtain, which separates Molina’s inner life from the brutality of his cell.
The initial aggression of hard man Valentin and the gradual breaking down of barriers between them through a shared loneliness and humanity is wonderfully played out using sung dialogue between the two, the regular appearances of Aurora, and brilliant
The staging of this show at the Half Moon Theatre in Cork city is surprising – it certainly deserves a bigger audience. It’s a small venue, but it’s used imaginatively, with the chorus – mostly illustrating fellow prisoners – located disconcertingly on the balcony, and the musicians located behind a curtain which bisects the stage. Caitriona Frost and Alex Petcu’s percussion are ever-present; it’s surprising how ominous a xylophone can be.
The venue really comes into its own during one of the play’s darker moments – literally and figuratively – when the lights go out and the audience is immersed in the terrifying prison sounds of torture and terror that Molina and Valentin must endure every night.
John O’Brien’s direction is flawless, but it is Michael Grennell as Molina who runs away with the show. His mincing, wincing, character is the very caricature of a drama queen, with the facial gymnastics for every emotion and the body language of a cocky but ultimately terrified victim, who has always been marked as different and suffered for it.
Carolyn Goodwin’s performance as Aurora / Spider Woman is perfect, too, with her glitzy costumes by Lisa Zagone providing the glamorous counterpoint to Molina and Valentin’s miserable cell. Michael Sands is a solid performer with a lot of experience, but appears miscast in the role of macho man Valentin, who doesn’t quite feel threatening enough at the beginning.
Kiss of the Spider Woman runs until 23 November,at 8.30pm in the Half Moon Theatre. Tickets cost €25 (€20 preview) Booking: 021-4270022 www.corkoperahouse.ie.
Published in the Sunday Business Post Magazine, 17 November 2013.