Kiss of the Spider Woman

I wanted to like this show--partly because Manuel Puig's novel is one of my favorites, but also because the last time I reacted to a show produced by Teatro Sinergia with sincere and unfettered glee, with genuine excitement and adoration, I received a not-very-cordial phone call from a venomous cast member who hadn't been mentioned in the review. I was troubled to think what might have happened to me if I hadn't liked the show.

With this production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, director Pedro J. Ortiz seems to have boldly led these actors into the heightened emotional swampland found only in telenovelas. The play revolves around the relationship between two prisoners as one attempts to distract, entertain, and seduce the other with the stories he tells. In this production, however, the frustrating thing is that these two men can't just have a conversation. Nearly every line launches a momentous emotional reaction that aside from lacking verisimilitude is just plain tiring.

Maybe you have seen a young cousin portray a gay man this way: loads of hip-swishing, wrist-bending, hair-flipping, and an unnatural attempt at a feminine voice. Ruben Amavizca's rendering of Molina veers treacherously close to this territory, distracting us from moments when we might believe his love of Valentin is genuine and even moving.

We have the handsome Alejandro Montanez as Valentin, the revolutionary and political prisoner who is the object of Molina's affection. Montanez is ultra-earnest about every single thing he says, which means his performance has about as much color and charisma as Gray Davis after he's had a Diet Pepsi. We don't quite buy the idea that he's a tortured revolutionary, and it doesn't help that his body is not only healthy, it's perfume-model healthy, as is his four-foot-long, well-conditioned hair.

What the two men lack in emotional chemistry, they make up for in skin baring. It is hard not to be impressed by the speed at which these two men can dress and undress, and dress and undress.

As the Spider Woman, Ludo Vika has provided some evocative choreography, creeping about the stage in a G-string covered by a black, lacy, sequined number topped with a dynamite feather headpiece. Her graceful, panther-like movements falter only during the grand finale, when she must tug two panels of net-like fabric downstage--something that looks like it might be the pantyhose of the 50-foot woman--and wrap up the two men. The endeavor proves a bit of a struggle, and we wonder whether it was entirely worth it when we realize that the only point of covering these two men up was so they could strip naked again and then wander upstage, where each takes up position and turns to face us on top of two large, dramatically lit pillars. End of show.