Love, war, and hell in a prison cell

DALLAS – The Uptown Players, near the Dallas Arts District, are performing “The Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Many of us saw the 1993 movie, which was extremely serious, but it was later made into a musical for the stage and won the Tony award when it was on Broadway. Our local production received financing from leaders and spokespersons for the LBGT community.

Children and squeamish adults may not like the language used, and the depiction of prison torture, mostly through screaming sound effects, is hard to withstand. For everybody else, there is a lot to think about.

“Molina” and “Valentin” are thrown into a Latin American jail cell together. Valentin is accused of revolutionary activities. Molina is accused of having solicited sex with a minor. The warden and guards hope to use the pathetic Molina to extract secret information from Valentin, but Molina finds himself falling in love with the stoic revolutionary.

Through their awful suffering, the two prisoners pass the time remembering movies that Molina saw as a child. In the book and movie, Molina remembers only one Spider Woman film and it was a Nazi propaganda vehicle, but in our production it is several movies all involving the same Hollywood vamp, “Aurora.” While the prisoners rot in their horrible cell, Aurora leads musical reviews outside the cell but still on the same stage. The effect is pretty stirring, especially because they use a rotating stage that keeps all the action front and center.

Since Aurora represents fantasy, a lot of the songs are satirical, but one really stands out. Valentin leads his fellow tormented prisoners in a defiant assertion that all will be free, “Tomorrow, or the next day!” Was there a dry eye in the house? I couldn’t see.

It would be difficult if not impossible to contrive a happy ending for this sad story, but a hopeful one is possible. One might be especially uplifted by the realization that the original story came from Brazil during its dictatorship, and that the first award-winning director came from Argentina. Both countries endured horrible regimes, but are working out the problems of democracy today.

The Dallas production of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” is directed by Bruce R. Coleman, and runs til Aug. 18 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. See more information at the Uptown Players website.

Photo: Uptown Players