Illustrating the seductive power of wish-fulfillment escapism through flashy production numbers, delivering composers Kander & Ebb’s haunting and anthemic songs with vocal bravura and featuring an eye-catching, multi-level, prison setting of squalid sumptuousness, Bailiwick Repertory’s production of “Kiss of the Spider Woman—The Musical,” based on the 1976 novel by Argentine writer Manuel Puig, is certainly stamped with musical and visual showmanship throughout. Unfortunately, in failing to capture the complex sexual and psychological dynamics within the relationship between an incarcerated gay window-dresser and a heterosexual radical revolutionary, it is also devoid of emotional resonance and loses the heart of the story. To be fair, dramaturgical obstacles are inherent in the script: an under-dramatized first act; the under-developed character of Valentin; extended Hollywood B-movie sequences that—although entertaining—are ultimately redundant. As for Terrance McNally’s book scenes, like a delicate spider web they are a gossamer affair so that a perfunctory reading of them—like the one that saddles this production—easily misses the subtext and shadings. The marketing copy of this “Spider Woman” trumpets “In a new age of political prisoners…” a point of view that also seems to be this production’s raison d’être. And while the atrocities of prisoner abuses—evoked here with grit—are certainly relevant today, I’ve always felt that “Kiss of the Spider Woman” was psychologically more akin to “Midnight Cowboy” than to “Midnight Express.” (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, 1229 W. Belmont, (773)883-1090. Thu – Sat 7:30pm/Sun 3:30pm. $25-$30. Through Feb 18.