The strength of the story of Kiss of the Spider Woman is such that the more intensely depressing and dire it becomes, the better it gets. Give the production to an adept ensemble cast as the one that brought it to the Mahaffey Theater Tuesday and you have the makings for a compelling tale.
The production of Terrence McNally's adaptation of Manuel Puig's novel shimmers with emotional vitality.
The musical centers around Molina (played by Brian Barefoot), a flamboyant homosexual imprisoned for a sex crime in a Latin American penitentiary along with a Marxist rebel, Valentin (Ross Stoner). Together, they cling to hope from the inspiration of the women in their lives.
For Valentin, it comes from his girlfriend, Marta, whose tenderness caresses him even as he is tortured by his jailers. Molina, however, is seduced by the fantasy of Aurora (Sandra Guida), a movie star he has transfixed as both his savior and, in the form of the character of the Spider Woman, his eventual doom.
Barefoot's portrayal of the anorexic Molina is riveting throughout. His tortured obsession with Aurora leads to uncontrollable sobbing fits. One of the few lighthearted moments comes with his blathering exchange with Valentin as he attempts to explain his occupation as a windowdresser.
For the most part, the cast handles the scenes well. The choreography, while not overly imaginative, is crisp and precise. The Morphine Tango scene depicting Molina's bout with poisoned food was entertaining, thanks largely to Barefoot's drive.
Technically, Kiss is a handful. With an array of lighting and stage effects, the musical's imagery was vivid throughout. However, the production, which pivots on technical perfection, suffered from occasional miscues, such as badly timed lights and errant noises.
Overall, Kiss is a well-conceived effort, and one worth a look.
_ Kiss of the Spider Woman plays the Mahaffey Theater through Thursday. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursday's matinee is at 2. Call 898-2100.