Friday, September 14, 2007

Kiss Of The Spider Woman

The Vortex Theatre's stark, in-your-face production of the Kander-Ebb musical is packed wall to wall with bold and inventive ideas, but only half of them work. Ambitiously stripping the musical of razzle-dazzle and playing it like a gritty drama with music, the production's greatest strength is its menacing proximity: with a single long bench for audience on either side of the theatre, we're immersed in the prison where Molina, a fey window-dresser jailed for propositioning a minor, is holed up with Valentin, a political prisoner. Excepting that Max Ferguson lacks the needed gravity as Valentin, this production does reasonably well conveying the harsh reality half of the material: there's imaginative, resourceful staging and muscular, aggressive movement-choreography. But in conveying the other half of the story it's wrongheaded, replacing the glamorous, significantly bourgeois movie star of Molina's escapist fantasies with three figures (two of whom are cross-dressed men) who prowl the stage with panther-like sexual energy, a nightmare version of Madonna's The Girlie Show. Whose fantasy is this anyway, I asked myself, as it certainly isn't fey, fatally romantic Molina's?

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