Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kiss of the Spider Woman and Two Other Plays (1994)

This collection of plays by Argentinian author Michael Puig includes Kiss of the Spider Woman (El beso de la mujer araña) (1983), Under a Mantle of Stars (Bajo un manto de estrellas) (1983), and Mystery of the Rose Bouquet (El misterio del ramo de rosas) (1987). The totally awesome book club that I'm in (actually, it's a literary society) decided to read Kiss of the Spider Woman, together with Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending for our most recent discussion.

Actually, in addition to Puig's 1983 play of Kiss of the Spider Woman, there is also his 1976 novel of the same name, the 1985 film version staring Raúl Juliá and William Hurt, and a Tony-award winning musical from 1993. With so many versions, why hadn't I ever heard of it before?

Kiss of the Spider Woman is the story of two cell mates in a Latin American prison. Molina is gay and a few years into his eight year sentence for statutory rape. Valentin is a communist revolutionary. The play covers a short period in the middle of their time together -- they have settled into a routine where Molina helps pass the time by reciting the plots of old movies, they fight, make up, talk about Molina's mother and Valentin's girlfriends, and take care of one another within the boundaries of prison life. A shocking revelation at the end of the first act complicates things and brings the play to its moving climax and its really quite perfect and wonderful ending. I liked this one a lot.

I have dibs to read the novel soon, and I'm very interested to compare the two, but because I read the play first, I feel like none of the other media will be able to capture Puig's minimalist style and sense of character and timing. I watched some scenes from the musical on YouTube. Bleh. Granted it is based on the book and not the play, and I saw the scenes out of context, but still -- nothing at all like the vision of this story that I had in my head.

The other two plays in the collection were also very good -- particularly Mystery of the Rose Bouquet, the story of a sick old woman, her nurse, and their pasts. Like Kiss of the Spider Woman, a mixture of realism and theatre give the story its power. Highly recommended.

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