I have to make a conscious effort of reviewing plays I am invited to cover without learning anything about it and just go in completely blind. In this day and age, such an effort is difficult to do and even more so when the individual such as myself is an information devouring maniac.
Thus, I am incredibly glad I did so with A Noise Within production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, which is now playing till April 23 in the Pasadena area.
Originally a 1976 novel written by Argentine writer Manuel Puig, it has since become a stage play adapted by Puig himself, an Academy Award winning film, and a Broadway musical.
The stage play is the least known rendition but iafter watching this intimate two hander two-plus hour performance with no intermission, I cannot see how other versions can top this.
TLDR: Kiss of the Spider Woman is an astonishing play I enjoyed immensely and continues to sit with me still as I write this review.
In a South American prison cell in a country under authoritarian rule, two polar opposites discover that love may spring in the most unlikely of places. Michael Michetti directs Adrián González and Ed F. Martin in Kiss of the Spider Woman, adapted by Argentine writer Manuel Puig from his best selling novel, El beso de la mujer araña, and translated from the Spanish by Allan Baker. Pasadena’s A Noise Within presents a four-week run, April 1 through April 23, with previews beginning March 26.
Putting up a play that only consists of two actors handling two-plus hours of dialogue in a stage setting that never changes is incredibly challenging to keep up with the audience’s attention nowadays. It is then a testament to the acting talent of Adrián González and Ed F. Martin as Valentin and Molina respectively that we are thoroughly engaged with the assured directing of Michael Michetti.
(All photos provided below are taken by Craig Schwartz).
But no show can get up to par with such a fine cast without a casting director to get them there in the first place. It is here that serious credit goes to Victoria Hoffman who assembled the potential ingredients together to create the foundation. And, truly, what a strong foundation it is.
As the queer, movie-loving Molina, Ed F. Martin deftly balances between hilarious melodrama to heartbreaking, grounded reality who makes the most of his harsh prison life in Buenos Aires’ notorious Villa Devoto prison during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
It takes a minute to see the point of Molina’s long retellings of his favorite classic movies are but we as the audience quickly see the necessity of such stories as it soon begins to blur with their bleak reality.
By that account, it is to Martin’s strength that he is able to be engaging and KEEP being engaging with these stories that anchors the intimacy between the two characters.
On the opposite side is the passionate, hunky, and broody Adrián González as Valentin. As a macho political prisoner deeply committed to the Marxist cause sparked by Che Guevara (to the point that he modeled his look after the revolutionary leader), González provides the perfect counter as the two characters clash frequently over their vastly different lifestyles and viewpoints.
It is here that the actor provides such energy, passion, and heart to the role that we as the audience are engaged and invested in to see their unlikely relationship blossom from prisoner acquaintances, friends, and to something so much more.
No play is complete without their surroundings and for a play with just two actors, the environment created for the piece does not distract or detract but only adds onto the experience. Because the stage space at A Noise Within is a round house theatre space, scenic designer Tesshi Nakagawa creates a vivid jail cell environment that evokes the time setting and place of the Argentine “Dirty War.” At the end of the play, the scene transforms into something astonishing in its simplicity and execution that it is best to experience it without me telling you.
Composer Alex Mansour provides an original, tango-inspired score that gently moves the piece along with its beauty. Lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg and sound designer Robert Oriol both complement each other nicely in the smooth transitions between the harsh reality of prison life and the dream-like retellings of the movie fantasies. Intimacy director Carly DW Bones did a tremendous job choreographing and guiding the incredibly intimate and physical details this play requires so that it is not only safe for the actors but provides beauty and poetry while doing so.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is an intimate and stirring piece that speaks quietly yet undeniably to your soul. Go catch it if you can and then afterwards, read up on its terrible history that the world may have forgotten about here and here. These are only but a brief summary so may it be your guide to expanding your knowledge.
A Noise Within presents Manuel Puig’s modern classic Kiss of the Spider Woman. Set in a South American prison cell in a country under authoritarian rule, two polar opposites discover that love may spring in the most unlikely of places. Poignant, chilling, funny and sensual, this intimate two-hander is the story of Valentin, a macho political prisoner whose commitment to the Marxist cause takes precedence over everything else, and queer, movie-loving Molina, who escapes the harsh reality of prison life by retelling beloved film noir classics and emulating their glamorous leading ladies. Forced to share a cell in Buenos Aires’ notorious Villa Devoto prison during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” the two forge an unlikely relationship.
• Adapted for the stage by Manuel Puig from his novel “El beso de la mujer araña”
• Translated from the Spanish by Allan Baker
• Directed by Michael Michetti
• Starring Adrián González and Ed F. Martin
• Presented by A Noise Within, Geoff Elliot and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, producing artistic directors
Previews March 26–March 31
Performances April 1–April 23
• Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.: March 29* ONLY (Preview)
• Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.: March 30 (Preview); April 6, April 13; April 20
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 31 (Preview); April 7**, April 14**; April 21**
• Saturdays at 2 p.m.: April 8, April 15; April 22 (no matinee on April 1)
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 1 (Opening Night); April 8***, April 15; April 22
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 26 (Preview); April 2; April 9**, April 16; April 23
*Pre-performance symposium with dramaturg Dr. Miranda Johnson-Haddad at 6:45 p.m. prior to the preview on Wednesday, March 29.
**Post-performance conversations with the artists every Friday (except the preview) and on Sunday, April 9.
***Join the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles for a performance of pieces inspired by Kiss of the Spider Woman before the 8 p.m. show on Saturday, April 8.
An INsiders Discussion Group will be held on Tuesday, April 18, from 6 p.m.–8 p.m. on Zoom ($38 per individual or $45 per household).
There will be one student matinee at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 19. Interested educators should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Noise Within
3352 E Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
• Tickets start at $25
• Student tickets start at $18
• Wednesday, March 29 and Thursday, March 30 (previews): Pay What You Choose starting at $5 (available online beginning the Monday prior to that performance)
• Discounts available for groups of 10 or more
Adult content: recommended for mature audiences ages 18 and up.