Kiss of the Spider Woman.
16 November 2011
I confess to coming to this with more than a little trepidation. When Mike asked if I was available to do a review for him I said yes, without knowing anything about the play I had agreed to go see. Naturally, being a librarian I looked it up. So, a play about two men, complete opposites, in a jail in South America…one gay, imprisoned for indecency, the other a political activist, imprisoned and tortured for his Marxist ideals. The have nothing in common except the cell in which they are incarcerated. Secrets, torture, betrayal, and sex. This was not something I could take my mother to see! I was expecting tension, conflict, corruption and oppression; not to mention a certain amount of discomfort.
Staged in the Studio, a rather intimate space for such huge themes, the venue works well for a play set entirely within the confines of a prison cell. The audience is almost on the stage with the actors, and this certainly lent an air of claustrophobia.
The story follows the development of the relationship between the two men. Each trapped in a prison they wish to escape, both physical and emotional, they struggle with each other and themselves as they try cope with their situation. Resentment gradually gives way to a grudging friendship, and then to real affection, as Molina’s fascination with the movies provides a distraction and temporary escape from their misery. Valentin especially, recovering from torture, and then secretly poisoned by the guards, struggles to hang onto his political ideals, and fights against his growing attachment to the gentle Molina. Molina is attracted to Valentin, and tries to befriend him, only to be rebuffed and ridiculed. Things change though when Valentin is poisoned by the guards and Molina cares for him. However, it is at this point we discover that Molina is not all he seems. He too has secrets.
This is a play about conflicts, and self discovery. Molina is an endearing character and Valentin a man struggling to live up to his own expectations. It is an interesting play – cleverly executed but I did feel the first half didn’t quite deliver the sense of conflict or the passion I had expected. The actors seemed to warm to their subject as the play progressed. I was much more convinced by the character’s inner conflicts in the second half of the play, as they struggled with their own particular demons, and by the affection and tenderness they came to feel for each other.
It’s not a comfortable play, but it will make you think about the value of friendship, the nature and price of freedom.
Kiss of the Spider Woman runs till the 19th - November.