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A CurtainUp Los Angeles ReviewReview
Kiss of the Spider Woman
By Stanely H. Nemeth
The bold, risk-taking Rude Guerrilla Company is in the front rank of Southern California playhouses specializing in clearly meaningful and stageworthy pieces underperformed or ignored locally. Last season, Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing was presented to considerable acclaim, and the Company, I understand, is dickering at present for the rights to put on a work by the late Sarah Kane.
Its current production, The Kiss of the SpiderWoman is in the same league as these works. What the Company is presenting is a noteworthy rarity, author Manuel Puig's own stage adaptation of his successful novel. His play version preceded the expanded, though actually diluted film version, and, of course, the relatively bloated musical account.
Puig's stage adaptation is restricted to two characters and one occasional offstage voice. What is emphasized is the intimate, almost claustrophobic prison setting in which the play's odd couple, a gay window dresser and a macho political rebel, initially find themselves, and then, in the course of time and through increasing openness, grow to "find themselves" in a profound, human sense.
The theme, which emerges more clearly in this than in other versions, is the subtle interplay in all lives of the erotic and the political. Molina, the window dresser, knows only the erotic; Valentin, the radical, has repressed the erotic out of a distorted sense of political duty. The overly close confines bring the men together, having them meet, briefly merge and then wind up changing places.
Valentin’s love for the woman he rejected comes flamingly alive; in choosing loyalty to Valentin and thus in a sense his political group upon leaving prison, the flaming Molina brings to life an aspect of human personality that had lain dormant within him. This ultimately mysterious crossover and the two person debates leading up to it are presented by Puig with something of the charm and childlike ingeniousness of a Platonic dialogue.
The Rude Guerrilla production makes the most of the limited resources at its disposal. Sets and costumes are simple. The acting, though not up to Tony Award standards (but never pretending that it is), is never less than competent, and in the case of David Cramer (Molina) somewhat more than that.
The direction by Andrew Nienaber, like all else here, is at the service of the playwright and his vision. A delicate balance is maintained between a fairly darkened stage and then a brightly lit one. The soporific danger lurking in poorly-lit, extended one or two person exchanges is thus wholly avoided. Nienaber, moreover, never lets us forget that Puig's work is, of course, a play. Accordingly, tempers flare convincingly , and crockery is smashed, as we watch what is clearly the imitation of an action, even though one of largely internal human significance.
For its devotion to the playwright, and the skill with which it allows his ideas to emerge from an action staged with wit and vitality, the Rude Guerrilla Company deserves critical praise.