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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Cramped Spider Woman

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Kander and Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman is a sharp musical theater exploration into the nature of human incarceration. The characters’ cinematic fantasies of life beyond the cell walls should contrast starkly with the wretched squalor of the Brazilian prison cell in which the story is set. The problem with a really big production in a large theater is that the sense of incarceration remains its own distant fantasy from a theater seat.

Off the Wall Theatre has a chance to overcome this distance with its current production. Its intimate studio space can bring the emotionality of a story to the stage quite vividly. The central problem with the production is that it fails to effectively deliver the squalor and desperation of incarceration to the stage. Conditions inside the tiny studio theater feel festively cramped and overcrowded, but this close to the action, the squalor is too artificial. The elegantly dreamlike cinematic world is never given a compellingly wretched world with which to contrast.

While Off the Wall may have solidly missed an opportunity with the overall production, the show is not without its merits. The music comes across quite clearly and the emotional reality at the heart of the story is vividly brought to the stage. Karl Miller and Jeremy C. Welter have an interpersonal dynamic that quite believably progresses the relationship between the two prisoners. Liz Norton is casually endearing as the film star of their fantasies. Alexandra Bonesho makes a memorably fleeting appearance as the wife beyond the prison walls that Welter's character longs for.

Off the Wall's production of Kiss of the Spider Woman runs through May 26 at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-484-8874 or visit offthewalltheatre.com.