Polar Opposites Dare to Love in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at A Noise Within

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | South Pasadenan News | Ed F. Martin and Adrián González in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" at A Noise Within.

In a South American prison cell in a country under authoritarian rule, two polar opposites discover that love may spring in the most unlikely of places. Michael Michetti directs Adrián González and Ed F. Martin in Kiss of the Spider Woman, adapted by Argentine writer Manuel Puig from his best selling novel, El beso de la mujer araña, and translated from the Spanish by Allan Baker. Pasadena’s A Noise Within presents a four-week run, April 1 through April 23, with previews beginning March 26.

Poignant, chilling, funny and sensual, this intimate two-hander is the story of Valentin (González), a macho political prisoner whose commitment to the Marxist cause takes precedence over everything else, and queer, movie-loving Molina (Martin), who escapes the harsh reality of prison life by retelling beloved film noir classics and emulating their glamorous leading ladies. Forced to share a cell in Buenos Aires’ notorious Villa Devoto prison during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” the two forge an unlikely relationship.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz | South Pasadenan News | Ed F. Martin and Adrián González in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at A Noise Within.

“It’s an amazing story, one that takes on new relevance in today’s polarized climate,” says Michetti. “The idea that two people from such different worlds, stuck together in this oppressive setting, are able to grow to understand and even love one another is beautiful and inspiring. There’s a lot of humor and playfulness despite the serious nature of the story, and people who might be familiar with the film or Broadway musical version will be surprised to find how much language drives the play. We, the audience, are trapped in that cell with Valentin and Molina and, just like them, our only escape is to use our imagination.”

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Born in 1932, Manuel Puig grew up as a queer man in Argentina’s increasingly conservative and oppressive society. Introduced to the movies at a young age by his mother — B movies and escapist fare were their favorites — Puig often sought refuge in the cinema. “It was our escape,” he said in an interview. “I hated my town. There was an authoritarian, repressive atmosphere, and I saw everything in terms of a second-rate cowboy picture, a B Western. The townspeople were the villains, not the heroes.” In the mid-1960s, when a coup d’état led to a full-blown military dictatorship, he sought a physical escape overseas. Puig wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1976, while living in exile in Greenwich Village. The autobiographical parallels are obvious. Clearly a reflection of the contemporary Argentinean political situation, it was banned in his home country until democracy was restored.

Puig adapted Kiss of the Spider Woman for the stage in 1983. Allan Baker’s English translation premiered in 1985 at London’s Bush Theatre, with Simon Callow playing Molina and Mark Rylance as Valentin. In 1985, it was made into a film by Argentine-Brazilian director Hector Babenco, starring William Hurt and Raul Julia. The musical version, with a score by Kander and Ebb and book by Terrence McNally, opened on Broadway in 1993, receiving the Tony Award for best musical.

The A Noise Within production will feature an original, tango-inspired score by composer Alex Mansour. The creative team includes scenic designer Tesshi Nakagawa; lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg; sound designer Robert Oriol; costume designer Carolyn Mazuca; properties designer Stephen Taylor; dramaturg Dr. Miranda Johnson–Haddad; intimacy director Carly DW Bones; and casting director Victoria Hoffman. The assistant stage manager is Karin Naono, and the production stage manager is Lucy Houlihan.

A Noise Within has been called “an oasis for those who love classic stories” by the Los Angeles Times and is a leading regional producer based in Pasadena, California. ANW’s award-winning resident company is committed to representing the entire community at its state-of-the-art, 324-seat performance space. In addition to producing world-class performances of classic theater, the organization runs robust education programs with the goal of inspiring diverse audiences of all ages. ANW believes in working hard on its anti-racist practice across the whole organization. By interpreting its mission to fully engage audiences through community and artist-centered work in multiple creative disciplines, ANW is striving to be a theater that better serves the entire community.

Performances of Kiss of the Spider Woman take place April 1 through April 23 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. (no 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 1). Four preview performances take place on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m.; Wednesday, March 29 and Thursday, March 30, each at 7:30 p.m.; and Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m.

Audiences are invited to attend a symposium with resident dramaturg Dr. Miranda Johnson-Haddad at 6:45 p.m. prior to the preview on Wednesday, March 29. Join the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles for a performance of pieces inspired by Kiss of the Spider Woman before the 8 p.m. show on Saturday, April 8. Post–performance conversations with the artists take place every Friday during the run (except the preview) and on Sunday, April 9. An INsiders Discussion Group will be held on Tuesday, April 18, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Zoom ($38 per individual or $45 per household). There will be one student matinee at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 19. Interested educators should email education@anoisewithin.org.

A Noise Within is located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. Tickets start at $25. Student tickets start at $18. Tickets to the previews on Wednesday, March 29 and Thursday, March 30 will be Pay What You Choose, with tickets starting at $5 (available online beginning at 12 p.m. the Monday prior to that performance). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

Kiss of the Spider Woman features adult content and is recommended for mature audiences ages 18 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (6263563100 or go to www.anoisewithin.org