Kiss of Death

The musical adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman suffers from a credibility gap

As Molina, Juan Chioran has comic timing, tenderness, and a honey-rich tenor voice reminiscent of Mandy Patinkin's. But instead of an insecure, shame-ridden queen, Chioran's Molina seems centered, at peace with his sexuality; a sort of poster boy for gay rights. When the guards torment him by forcing him to declare himself "a piece of shit faggot," I never for a second felt that he believed it.

Dorian Harewood's Valentin is even more of a problem. Or maybe it's just his Valentin in combination with Chioran's Molina, but I never felt there was anything at all between them; not hostility, not distrust, not contempt, and certainly not love.

Act 1 introduces the possibility of friendship between these two, but by the opening scene of Act 2, it's a done deal, as though something has happened during intermission that the audience has not been privy to. Suddenly, Valentin and Molina are sitting together on the floor as though they're at a slumber party, happily chatting and polishing off one of Molina's care packages. Soon it's love, love, love.

When Valentin kissed Molina on opening night, there were audible gasps. I don't think it was merely because some people find such an action unthinkable, but because there was no basis for it. It was shocking in its own way. Without a believable romantic bond, there is no dramatic payoff, and the intended heart-wrenching ending falls as flat as the big "Only in the Movies" finale.

Kiss of the Spider Woman runs through Dec. 23 at the Orpheum in S.F.; call 776-1999.

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