Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kiss of the Spider Woman—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

A Lethal Combination

This dramatic musical by Terrence McNally, John Kander and Fred Ebb (from a book by Manuel Puig) is an Oregon Premiere and is directed by Don Horn.  Musical Direction is by Jonathan Quesenberry and Choreography by Sara Martins. It is presented by Triangle Productions! at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  It runs through September 29th.  For more information, go to or call 503-239-5919.

The non-musical, film version starred William Hurt (winning an Academy Award for it) and Raul Julia.  The Broadway show starred the unstoppable, Chita Rivera and won seven Tony awards.  This production features the unbeatable, Margie Boule’ (Aurora/Spider Woman), Bobby Ryan (Molina) and Nicholas Rodriguez (Valentin).  It is the story of commitment, pain, brutality, friendship, death and love.  And, it is about how one might find warmth in the coldest of places and heroes in the most unlikely of shells.

If magic could be woven into a carpet and a kiss, awaken dreams, this production is the platform for such a journey!  Aurora is the dream and the vehicle to temporarily transport one from a hell-on-earth to a heaven-like place.  But, beware of the deadly, sweet kiss of the Black Widow, the Spider Woman, the inevitable contact we must all face to transport us from this “mortal coil.”  In the meantime, we have a revolution, both sexual and political, imprisoned, a threat to the “normal” rules of “civilized” society.  Any identification with current world affairs is entirely…intended.

This particular prison is in South America and the focus of the story is two cellmates, Molina, a sexual deviant, and Valentin, a terrorist.  The rules of the games are simple.  Molina is to spy for the military to get the names of the other revolutionaries from Valentin.  If he’s a good boy and does what they say, he will be released to take care of his ailing mother (also, Margie Boulie’).  But Molina has a saving grace, that transports him out of his hellhole, in the guise of Aurora, a movie star (akin to a Rita Hayworth) that he dreams of and is his passage out of the iron bars. 

Soon, he ensnares Valentin into this web and he, too, becomes entranced with visions of other worlds and possibilities.  They fall in love, which compromises Molina’s desire to be free, versus his intense feelings for his friend.  And the ever-present, deadly kiss is just around the corner, to free all from their troubles.  Will he betray his friend?  Will the dark, feline fatale’ become a companion to one, or both, of them?  No, I won’t be a spoiler and reveal the ending but, let’s just say, it’s bittersweet.

The songs are totally integrated into the story and become, in many ways, the passages outside the prison.  And the dance numbers, seemly could be confined because of such a small space, are well-choreographed by Martins and become quite effective.  And Quesenberry’s musical direction and his band, are very good, and do not overcome the singers, a common mistake in many musicals.  The sound (David Petersen) and lighting (Jeff Woods) are particularly important in creating the variety of changes needed for the different settings to the story.  And Horn, as always, has added his expertise in the set and costume (w/Darren Pufall) designs, also simple but very effective for these changes.

Boule’ is an icon of musical theatre in this area and she shows why she deserves those accolades.  She easily weaves from one character to another so successfully that she is almost unrecognizable.  And her rendering of the songs is top-notch, to the point that this space seems too small to hold her enormous talent. 

And to complement her in two songs (Dear One and I Do Miracles) is Crystal Muñoz as Marta, Valentine’s gal, who is a terrific match for her in them.  Muñoz has already proved herself as an actress and director in other theatres, now she can add singing and dancing to those honed talents.  An actor to be followed in future shows, I believe.

And the two leads are sensational!  Rodriguez gives us the passion as the revolutionary but also the vulnerability of a man in love with his cause, his woman and his country.  And he has the power in his voice for the conviction needed in the songs and one can see him slowly evolved into a world of sensitivity.  A touching portrayal.  And Ryan is masterful as the seemingly, more fragile, Molina.  He is not the stero-typed, foppish gay we sometimes see on stage and screen, but a true human being, full of hopes and desires, like all of us.  It is to his credit (and Rodriguez’s) that we see the full scope of human interaction and the entire range of hues on a human palette, all colors of the rainbow.

Horn has, again, given us a complex, thoughtful production, one that, in another’s hands, might have just been a slick show.  Just the suggestion of changes, adds greatly to communicating to us the fact that they are still in prison and the world/memories they seek are only a dream away.  Reinforcing, for me, how important imagination and the Arts are for individuals to become complete beings.  And he has one of the strongest chorus’ I’ve seen, adding to the strength of this production, Ron Harman, Matthew Brown, Alexander Salazar, Gabriel Mikalson, and Muñoz.

I do recommend this show but, keep in mind, it does have nudity and concerns adult subject matter, so may not be to everybody’s taste.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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