Raw and vibrant theatre
By Ross Larkin
Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman is an iconic, unusual story of the relationship between two men in an Argentinean prison cell.
Incarcerated for vastly different crimes, the prisoners, whose similarities seem only to be their predicament, gradually discover they have more in common than anyone would likely foresee.
Compared to its film and musical cousins, the play is confined to one cramped location, two actors, and a hefty stream of dialogue.
Mockingbird Theatre’s version is staged in the most intimate of spaces, with the audience squeezed so tightly in front of the action that the experience teeters on awkward: fitting, for an exploration of two curiously unhinged men and the unlikely affection that surfaces amidst a rocky, emotional course.
Imprisoned for corrupting a minor, Molina (Angelo DeCata) is a flamboyant dreamer, obsessed with storytelling his favourite movie, often in denial of his situation. Molina is caged with Valentin (Adam Ward), a volatile political prisoner whose dysfunction is rife.
DeCato is faced with a particularly challenging role, having to walk the line between vicarious fantasy, and the stark reality of his circumstances. Although, at times, bordering on one note, DeCato largely succeeds in portraying a shakily optimistic, effeminate character. Meanwhile, Ward’s performance feels initially forced and unsubtle, playing anger quite liberally, when the impact and intrigue of the character would have benefited from more light and shade.
When the stakes are later raised, however, the connection between the men matures, and Ward offers a more nuanced, genuine portrayal, leaving the audience affected in all the right ways.
As usual, director Chris Baldock does justice to a richly powerful story with his tastefully simplistic trademark approach – concentrating more on the character-driven narrative, and less so on gimmickry. The colour-changing web was an interesting exception. Likewise, the stark light for the bulk of the play’s duration was a choice which may have prevented the audience being drawn deeper into a world where fantasy and reality co-exist. Thus, the enhanced lighting for the tenderly awkward sex scene provided a window to a theatrical mood which was otherwise perhaps a little too absent at times.
Kiss of the Spiderwoman has, in the past, been either loved or hated, though more so the former. Lovers of the earlier versions will without doubt not be disappointed, while those unfamiliar are urged to experience Mockingbird’s version, which is well worth the effort.
Kiss of the Spiderwoman is playing now until September 15 at The Owl and the Pussycat, Swan street, Richmond. Saturday September 7 at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday September 8 at 5pm, Tuesday-Saturday September 10-14 at 8pm, Sunday September 15 at 5pm.