Arts theater review

Her Name is Aurora

Glitz! Glamour! Torture! ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ has it all!

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Molina (Eddy Cavazos) dances in the infirmary with nurses.
Courtesy of Boston Lyric Stage

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Directed by Rachel Bertone
Book by Terrence McNally
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig
Boston Lyric Stage
Aug. 31 – Oct. 7

Kiss of the Spider Woman is an unabashedly queer play set in the darkest of places — prison. The musical follows a homosexual window dresser, Luis Molina (Eddy Cavazos), while he waits out the rest of his eight-year sentence in an Argentinian prison. He has been incarcerated for the corruption of a minor and thrown behind bars. Unlike the other prisoners, who waste away in the darkness, Molina lives his life with glitz and glamour. He is obsessed with the starlet, Aurora; the only role of hers that he doesn’t love is the Spider Woman (Lisa Yuen), who can kill people with a kiss.

The lead actors’ acting is spectacular. With Cavazos and Taavon Gamble, who plays Molina’s cellmate Valentin, headlining the performance, it was a pleasure to see the two slowly open up to one another. Cavazos in particular stole the show. He entertained us with the same level of melodramatic flair as Aurora does. The musical skyrockets to a kitschy reproduction of most over dramatic 1930s films when Cavazos graces the stage. Meanwhile, the supporting actors don’t invigorate the performance as well as he does. They often feel like side-pieces, used to exaggerate Molina’s overtness.

In terms of the stagecraft, Lyric Stage goes for another low-tech stage. The set is underutilized, with few outstanding features to point out. The bars which surround Valentin and Molina are reminiscent of a spider web. Otherwise, the set design is nothing new. Projection, on the other hand, is used heavily to summon Hollywood onto this stage. The floor illuminated with the outlines of a web, again symbolizing the Spider Woman’s dominion over life. The placement of the projection got confusing sometimes because the screen was placed on the second floor of the stage. Whether this is due to the small size of Lyric Stage or bad decisions is unknown. However, it does raise some questions about the overall cohesion of the set pieces.

While the performance is technically underwhelming, it never forgets its glamorous roots. The choreography is delightful. Yuen stars in most of the dances; true to her to character, she glows each time she spins, a smile on her face as she does so. Not all of the numbers involve her, but the ones that do are an idyllic break from the gloom of the set.

At the end of the day, this is a musical that’s unashamed to honestly portray its main character. In this modern era, Molina never questions their desires to be a woman, becoming a transgender icon in the process. It’s a story about how masculinity and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive and how love can bloom from even the most dire of situations. The performance does fall into old problems that Lyric Stage has with musicals — shallowness of the stage, acoustic dead zones, etc. Even with technical downfalls, it is still a production that anyone interested in seeing an honest love story, with all its complications, theater lovers should watch.