Flights of fancy

Imagination wins out in Blue Room’s production of Spider Woman

The setting is a dull-gray, unremarkable prison cell somewhere in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Two men share this cell. Molina has been allegedly jailed for his acts of “gross indecency.” Valentin is imprisoned for his overtly Marxist, anti-government activities. Molina wants to be a woman; Valentin wishes to “change the world.” Molina lets his imagination fly free by expanding the storyline from an old noir-ish film/thriller that probably never existed, while Valentin breaks every human activity and interest down into cold sociological, psychological or political motivations. How these seemingly different men develop compassion and even love for each other forms the storyline of Manuel Puig’s tale Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Puig was born in Argentina in 1932. Growing up, he developed a fondness for movies and eventually left to study cinematography in Italy before returning to Buenos Aires to write fiction. Although Puig received much acclaim for his books, increasing censorship from the military dictatorship in Argentina necessitated his self-imposed exile to Mexico in the ‘70s. It is there that he finished the novel on which this play is based, and his interest in detective stories and noir-ish elements is evident here.

As Molina, Jerry Miller does a great job. Miller’s Molina flips his hair, arches his back imperiously, throws himself on his bunk and hides his face, refusing to talk when hurt. The character readily describes himself and his friends as “queens.” He wants to be a woman in a very old-fashioned sense: Molina wants somebody strong to sweep him off his feet and take care of him. He tells Valentin that if the would-be revolutionary truly wants to change the world so much, he should start with himself.

Joe Hilsee does an equally great job with Valentin. He conveys Valentin’s all-too-typical ignorance of “how it works” within the homosexual lifestyle: If a man is man, certainly he is only attracted to women, right? But there is more to Valentin than that. For all his studying and attempts to better his mind, he is running away from a more pertinent fact about himself. And the Argentinean metaphor of the title is more than a little tied into this.

Ultimately, the two characters suggest two parts of the same mind. And the conclusion of the play seemingly reinforces this perception. Director David Clyne has paid fine attention to the story’s subtleties.

Alex Belden’s lights and sound were fairly flawless last Friday. Amber Miller’s bleak, gray prison cell served as a canvas for the actors to paint on, her costumes for the men equally bleak and appropriate. All in all, this is another winner from the Blue Room.