Miracle explores controversy

Miracle Theatre/Teatro Milagro
425 S.E. Sixth
(503) 236-7253
Thurs. 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 8 p.m. through March 17

Imagine two very different people living together in uncomfortably close confines. These people are together night and day, and there is no avoiding each other because they are in a one-room jail cell. Eventually they drive each other mad, and either kill each other or become closer thanks to mutual understandings and communication.

The two people, in this case two prisoners in the play “Kiss of The Spider Woman,” are biologically the same, but their genders are opposite. They fall in love almost out of necessity, just as prisoners fall in love with their captors. Then, like a female spider, after finally ensnaring a male, one character betrays the other and devours him.

“Kiss of The Spider Woman,” playing for a short time longer at Milagro theater, is an old play exploring themes of love, captivity, gender and human nature. The Milagro production, with solid acting from the two man cast, Andres Alcala as Molina and Rafael Untalan as Valentin, is well produced and directed, intimate and captivating.

Molina and Valentin are cell mates in what is likely Spain. Molina is in for fraternizing with minors, Valentin because of his affiliation with revolutionaries. During early characterization Valentin’s strong conviction to the revolution becomes clear while Molina says he identifies with the female gender.

Molina is very kind to Valentin, who is frequently tortured for information. The proud and strong Valentin accepts his hospitality reluctantly and with some shame.

Government officials begin to poison Valentin’s food to weaken his convictions. They then pressure Molina to try and get information about Valentin and the revolutionaries in exchange for an early release.

During his illness, Valentin becomes less solid, confiding in Molina about his love for a bourgeois girl. Molina is touched and the two eventually become lovers.

As this story progresses, so does another. Molina continually relays a movie about a tragic love affair among upper class urban people. Molina and Valentin compare themselves to the characters. Valentin says that Molina is not like any of the characters, but like a spider, a female that lures in her mate then devours it. This is an odd analysis, since Molina has always been so kind, but very astute considering the circumstances.

Much of this play’s success is thanks to the solid acting by Alcala and Untalan. They portray these characters very well. During intermission, when the stage is usually cleared so the actors can take a break, Molina and Valentin remain in character. Molina continues to care for the sickened Valentin and the story goes on.

Alcala is especially impressive as a “lady” reluctantly reaching out to and falling in love with someone who continually stays distant and angry. Untalan’s portrayal of a staunch militant activist and revolutionary who finally acknowledges his emotional side is very good as well.

The gender theme is dealt with openly and well. Molina theorizes that his love for his mother, and her treatment of him has led him to his current gender identification. The political theme is also important and interesting. Putting one’s self second and the movement first is also what comes to be the truth of a relationship.

Molina and Valentin discover they can find escape through the passion for one another. They both are able to momentarily become someone else through sex, and for a brief moment forget the miserable conditions they endure.

The production and direction are also very good. In between most scenes the lights fade to black momentarily then flash back on as the characters are in different positions, doing different things and showing various emotions.

This shows passage of time and also effective characterization. The lights also change to indicate night and day, or during a storytelling sequence. This really helps with the mood and themes.

It takes a while to get used to the production that consists of only a one room cell, minimal props and two men for two hours, especially if you have seen one of the more grandiose Broadway musical productions of this play. After a while in the Miracle’s intimate environment, this production sucks you in and forces you to really think about some of the interesting and relevant themes. There is always a political struggle for justice, always love, always distress.