Kiss of the Spider Woman

This story about the redemptive power of fantasy deserves a bigger stage

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Half Moon Theatre, Cork

Director John O'Brien has decided on a cabaret-style approach in his musically compact presentation of Kiss of the Spider Woman. It's an efficient nod to originators John Kander and Fred Ebb (also responsible for Cabaret and Chicago) and brings a new vitality to their 1993 success.

The reduction has its own validity: it allows Lisa Zagone’s dimly squalid setting to imply all the restrictions of confinement while emphasising the redemptive power of fantasy. Intricate but meticulously sung vocal composition enhances that fantasy and sustains the potent mirage of the spider woman, whose vaporous existence is illuminated by gorgeous frocks evoking cabaret glamour, both strident and contained.

Equally contained but somehow not restricted is the orchestration, which is solely of percussion and bass, screened off to one side of a meagre stage, while a strong male chorus is heard from the balcony. The fusion of speech, song and music has a lyrical sympathy that speaks not only of the imaginative integrity of the musical itself (based on Manuel Puig’s novel) but on the clarity of O’Brien’s conception of its possibilities and the excitement of the playing by Alex Petcu, Caitríona Frost and Deirdre Frost.

The script, by Terence McNally, concerns two men sharing a cell in a filthy Latin American prison during South America’s recent fascist episode. Sentenced for soliciting, or worse, Molina is the jail’s “resident queen” and Valentin is involved in political revolt. Marx is his refuge, while Aurora, the spider woman, is conjured from Molina’s movie-going past to provide unfailing succour. Carolyn Goodwin is vocally alluring as the chanteuse in flaming chiffon or dark, menacing gauze. Michael Sands gives Valentin the necessary commitment and Michael Grennell’s confident singing offers a Molina whose ability to endure is always at risk, despite his quips.


But why the Half Moon? Theatre is about veracity in pretense: here we’re much too close to the grease-paint to grasp the truth in illusion. Although this Opera House production presents a condensed version, the size of the story deserves the Opera House stage. Until November 23

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture