BoHo's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Weaves A Web of Intimacy
One of the most exciting things about seeing musicals outside there original big budget context is the ability to discover new relatable relationships that may have gotten overlooked in the largess of the production. That is such the case with Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's new and very intimate mounting of Kander and Ebb's 1993 Tony Award winning Best Musical Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Based on Manuel Puig's gripping novel which was adapted into the 1984 Oscar winning film, Kiss of the Spider Woman explores the relationship between two cellmates held in a torture infused Latin American prison. Molina (Nathan Carroll) is a gay window dresser who is serving time for having sex with a minor, while Valentin(Evan Tyrone Martin) is held as because his Marxist revolutionary ties. To escape the real world, Molina's mind re-creates the films of the glamorous Aurora (Jennifer T. Grubb), who also once played the Spider Woman which possessed the kiss of death and scared Molina when he saw the film as a boy. That juxtaposition between the elaborate fantasy of the Hollywood films and reality of a brutal prison environment usually serves as the core through-point of the musical.
Not so with director Peter Marston Sullivan's vision. Here, the musical goes no further than to focus on the relationship between Molina and Valentin. It is small, quiet, real and in the end packs an emotional whallop. The audience, which is literally a few inches away from the stage, is thrust into their dreary world head first causing the truthfulness and depth of each of these actor's performances to be instantly engaging. In fact, the scenes between Mr. Carroll and Mr. Martin are so good that the musical numbers become almost superfluous. That is not to say that most the numbers do not work, they do, but in a much different way then I have witnessed before.
One thing that I always look forward to in a BoHo show is how they are able to push an actor to get the most out of their work. Recent accolades for BoHo actors include Jim DeSelm who was brilliant in Floyd Collins (WTF Jeff committee?) and Jeremy Tragger who won critical acclaim for the recent Hauptmann . So to Mr. Sullivan does here with Mr. Carroll who embodies every fiber of Molina's being and as an actor, goes to some very brave places. Then there is the equally brilliant Mr. Martin, who is going to be mainstay of Chicago theatre after this role. His booming baritone voice is reminiscent of Brian Stokes Mitchell and his on stage chemistry with Mr. Carroll is something that has obviously matured and grown during the rehearsal process where these two actors have an innate trust for each other on stage. Ms. Grubb makes for a stunning Aurora both visually and vocally while tasked with weaving her way through a very tight stage. There are some added emotional scenes between Molina and his mother, nicely played and sung by Caron Buinis as well as between Valentin and his lady Marta played by Jessica Kingsdale.
The ensemble do fine work going from prisoners to Aurora's dancers (thanks to Linda Fortunato's choreography) without a hitch and create a full choral sound for this mostly male dominated musical. I just wish musical director Elizabeth Doran would have included a trumpet in the reduced orchestrations as well as using some more percussion to obtain the requisite Latin flavor of the score. Sets by Patrick Ham and lighting by Diane Fairchild work nicely together to create the prison atmosphere.
In the end, as Harold Prince once said in an documentary about Spider Woman, the story is ultimately about escape. Whether it is escape from what we know to be true, escape from our circumstances or escape from ourselves to be something more, Boho's Kiss Of The Spider Woman proves brilliantly successful.
Kiss Of The Spider Woman plays through June 30, 2013 at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Performances are Thursday- Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. For tickets visit www.BoHo.com or call the Theatre Wit box office at 773.975.8150. For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com