Reviewed by Will Stackman
Speakeasy Stage Co. opened the Roberts Studio last season with a praiseworthy production of Sondheim's "Company." This fall, after recently closing a well-received production of "Theatre District" starring Bill Brochtrup, they've opened their most ambitious musical theatre project to date, a full scale production of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," the winner of seven Tony awards in 1993. As usual Speakeasy Artistic Director Paul Daigneault has recruited an impressive range of local talent. The two leads Molina the gay window dresser and Valentin the revolutionary are played by John King, last seen as the tapdancing Conductor in Overture Productions concert presentation of "On the Twentieth Century", and Brendan McNab, who played the Police Commissioner in Stoneham's "Pal Joey" this fall. The title character, the B-movie star Aurora, is taken by Christine Maglione, a woman of many talents who appeared on Broadway for 18 months in the final cast of "A Chorus Line", has an engineering and a law degree, and has been seen in a few local shows while raising three youngsters. She fits the part of Molina's movie star ideal especially when backed by a quartet of dancers including Brad Bass, who was Stoneham's "Pal Joey" a month ago. Bass also plays Molina's married friend Raphael.
Adding substance to the rest of the cast are IRNE winner Sean McGuirk as the Warden, seen earlier this fall as the villain in "Urinetown" over at the Lyric Stage, fellow IRNE winner Christopher Chew, who played Officer Lockstock as the Amnesty International rep, and Speakeasy regular Will McGarrahan, who got an IRNE for his appearance in "Company" last fall, as Molina's fellow window-dresser. Up-and-coming Victoria Kuehn is Marta, Valentin's girl "over the wall"; she played Little Sally this fall, and Little Red last spring at the New Rep. Peripetatic Beth Gotha is also new to Speakeasy as Molina's mother. Kuehn and Gotha's voices blend well. on "Dear One" The rest of the ensemble of prisoners and guards has credits ranging from Shakespeare to opera and provides room filling sound when needed. Needless to say the cast handles the acting requirements of Terrence McNally's book and Fred Ebb's lyrics with ease
Speakeasy's regular music director, Paul S. Katz conducts a nine piece ensemble from the keyboard assisted by his fellow IRNE winner, Jose Delgado. Their work does John Kander's score credit. One of Speakeasy's regular designers, Eric Levenson, is the first to reconfigure the Roberts into a thrust stage, incorporating the main aisle in the center seating into the plan. The main acting area is a tall steel cage mounted on an inset revolve just above center stage. This device not only turns but unfolds, defining the two prisoners' world. It also features full length curtains on a circular track around it. Bits of similar grating at the back confine the rest of the cast as needed. Levenson and Daigneault also make use of the built- in lighting balconies around the room, surrounding the audience with the action at times. IRNE winner John R. Malinowski provides a shadow-filled lighting plot with a range of effects. Busy local costume designer Seth Bodie gathered and created an impressive array of outfits for the Spider Woman plus various stages of distressed prison garb for the rest of the cast. The scale of the production is very impressive, while still becoming very intimate when needed.
This revival, which comes at a time when questions of political imprisonment and continued protest against oligarchical regimes, including the current American government, are much more in the public eye than when the show was created. The magical realism of Manuel Puig's novel is more vivid brought to life in this intimate production than the 1985 movie. That requirement is the show's only fault. The Broadway scale of several of Aurora's numbers, originally created for the legendary Chita Rivera, necessary on a large proscenium stage to radically change the focus of the show from a horrid reality to Molina's expansive remembrance of her movies, too easily becomes repetitive. Maglione has all the skills necessary, and a great deal of charm, but the star power is missing. Her performance is in fact much more at the B Picture level appropriate to the book. But there's a bit too much of it, at least in the long first act. Contractually, it is difficult to cut material from an established show, but this excellent production would benefit from a bit of slimming down, equally divided between the fantasy numbers and the repetitious horrors of the prison. This close up the audience gets the point very quickly, especially with recent riots in South America and France, revelations of secret CIA prisons, and the political malaise which seems to be settling over the West. Daigneault has concentrated on the growing relationship between the two prisoners amid the squalor of their confinement, which diminshes the character of Valentin in this current adaptation. McNally visited this production; perhaps the book may receive some adjustment for the scale of performance if the R & H Library is willing.