South American prison, brutal wards, torture forced confessions… not exactly the ingredients for something you voluntarily watch on a warm summer evening. Manuel Puig’s novel was adapted into a pictorial, profound musical, which, despite all the tragedies, repeatedly scores with situational comedy and offers infectious Latin American rhythms.
Director Werner Sobotka, commissioned by Bühne Baden, created an emotionally challenging, touching piece for me, and through ingenious stage directions, a perfect set design and great actors, he clearly outlined the complexity of the piece.
Table of Contents
Luis Molina, a homosexual window dresser, is being incarcerated by a South American dictatorship for having sex with a minor. Physical torture as well as threats, intimidation and humiliation determine everyday life there. Gentle Molina tries daily to protect himself from the unpredictable guards, from the fear for himself and for other inmates, by fleeing into a world of illusions: Since his mother was an usherette in a cinema, he enjoyed numerous movies. His very personal muse is Aurora, a great film diva whose poster also decorates his cell. The recreation of her films in his mind is his personal escape from the brutal everyday life. With fantasy and emotion, he conjures up the healing world of the film again and again, when the cruelty of the prison become all too visible. The different roles of Aurora as fantasy images cover the harsh reality.
One day he gets a cellmate named Valentin. He was arrested as an opponent of the regime, as a freedom fighter with terrorist tendencies. As a complete opposite of Molina, he is physically strong, aggressive and uncompromising. Immediately the two clash: While Molina tries to make contact and openly approaches him, Valentin despises Molina’s talk and his style. Valentin behaves repellent, threatening.
As Valentin watches the guards humiliate Molina for his homosexuality, for the first time he gets the inkling that they are both in the same boat. Something like compassion stirs in him, but an rapprochement succeeds only slowly, although Molina shows clear sympathy to Valentin. Since Valentin also has to suffer physically and mentally, Molina begins to take him into the fantasy world of Aurora films.
The prison extorts Molina: he should spy on Valentin to get the names of his allies. To put him mentally under pressure, he is told that his beloved mother is seriously ill. Contacting his mother in exchange for information: that’s the deal that Molina pretends going for.
To ruin Valentine, his food is poisoned. Molina helps Valentin. He cleans and tends him to save him from the infirmary. There, he believes, one would treat Valentin with morphine, under the effect of which Valentin might reveal his secrets.
Valentine opens. He acknowledges Molina’s efforts. He gets involved in his cinematic fantasy world.
Prison officials confront Molina with the impending death of his mother and the possibility of discharge in case of cooperation. So finally Molina delivers a name, yet not the one the guard hopes for. It is decided to tail Molina after his discharge. The night before, Valentin asks his friend to pass on a message in freedom. Molina initially refuses. Valentin approaches Molina and finally gets close to him physically. Molina, now in love, agrees. In freedom, he calls Valentine’s girlfriend Marta, and instantaneously gets re-arrested.
Valentin is interrogated again. As a last resort, the tortured and injured Molina is brought in. The guard threatens Molina with a pistol, he wants to force Valentin to talk. Molina stops him, sacrifices himself for his friend and gets shot. The spider woman, a role of movie diva Aurora kissing doomed ones, comes dancing with Molina one last tango and kisses him.
It’s Showtime! The performances of the Spider Woman are big time. As diverse as Aurora’s roles are her intended melodies. Latin American rhythms prevail, from merengue to bossa nova to exciting tango melodies.
The Song of the Spider Woman, on the other hand, is reminiscent of a ballad that runs through the piece in stanzas and finally unfolds: a dramatic catchy tune.
The recurrent melody is Behind the Wall. Parts of it can be found, for example, in Valentine’s solo Marta . However, it develops a big effect through the dark male voices of the prisoners.
Manuel Puig’s novel already impressed me in advance, although it is not easy to read. A complete mystery was me how to implement this intimate play-like piece in which the harsh reality is combined with stunning movies on a stage.
At the beginning you can see a black curtain over the whole stage (Karl Fehringer / Judith Leikauf), onto which a blue-shining spiderweb is projected. You only hear the song of the spider woman. Sooner or later, you’ll meet her …
Then you can see through the net Molina standing behind a lattice door in his cell. In an excellent way, the musical anticipates the whole setting here: Molina has already been caught, Molina is already sitting in the web of the spider woman. His destiny is predetermined, from now on it is only a matter of time until she fetches it. Even in this initial sequence reflects the great directing achievement!
In the middle, the stage shows the prison cell of Valentin and Molina with the two narrow bunk beds left and right. Both can be pulled backwards to disappear completely behind two closing metal doors. This way, space-saving choreographies are quickly and smoothly made way for. Above the prison cell, in a second level, a walkway is installed from left to right, including stairs. Up there we mostly see Aurora singing or in stark contrast to roaring the prison leader.
This simple and ingenious set design is the starting point for a very well thought-out directorial work by Werner Sobotka. The mingling of reality with Molina’s dream world can thus be conveyed in an absolutely tangible way: As soon as Molina begins to fantasize, Aurora appears above the cell. She sings and dances and Molina lives with her. Every movement that she makes, he performs synchronously, he moves the lips in perfect playback. He does that with an almost inexhaustible passion. He brings this diva to life in a cell, making it real for himself and for the audience. I did not know who fascinated me more: the gorgeous spider-woman or the totally absorbed Molina.
Aurora dances across the stage, and guards, who were just relentless in their dealings with the prisoners, suddenly merge seamlessly into the ballet, as do the beaten prisoners themselves. Aurora appears in various roles, abducting Molina, then Valentine and also me as a spectator in another world. But not only the spider woman becomes real:
Both Marta, Valentin’s great love, and Molina’s mother appear to comfort and to care for. The Molina-worshiped waiter from his favorite café is suddenly part of the game and serves the dishes in the cell. The reality is becoming blurred for the time of the dream.
That’s awesome, that’s magical: how the images blur into each other, how they make a rush, and then suddenly return hard to the cruel reality. Sobotka knows how to effortlessly combine both such different worlds. Like a spider its web, so Sobotka weaves unerringly a network of film and dream sequences to the reality of the prison cell. How much both blurred with each other, is also hinted at how in a wonderful detail after a movie fantasy a bunch of roses in the cell remains.
When Molina is shot, under Molina’s mother as a usher, all the performers in roles they have played in Molina’s life assemble in cinema chairs. Now, Molina plays the main role and dances, like Aurora before, in the white-shining coat the last dance with the spider woman.
Costume / Equipment
Glamorous costumes shape this imaginary film world hollywood-like. Big robes in red or black with sparkling necklaces and perfect hairstyles, a white tailcoat or a Brazilian samba costume: For Aurora, costume designer Friederike Friedrich visually offers everything that Molina desires: an immaculate surface.
In ancient myths of the Hopi Indians, the spider is the creator of all life. It once rose from the deep purple light of an approaching morning. The Baden Spider Woman is dressed from head to toe in an equally purplish-black glistening robe on her head she wears an elegant turban.
At the end, lighting designer Michael Grundner lights up a poisonous spider web on this dress of the spider woman.
Molina is lovingly described as a transsexual rather than a gay man: Turquoise lacquered fingernails, various scarves and scarves, which he wears either neck, head or wrist and a wide cape over his bare torso, of course, visually set a counterpoint to the coarse mustache bearer Valentin. In the end, before the kiss of the spider woman as he slides out of earthly reality, he becomes a diva himself and dances his last tango with the spider woman in the shiny white coat.
One sees in the choreographies that Natalie Holtom enjoyed creating them. In the big dance scenes, the focus is always on Aurora, the ensemble always puts them in the center and supports her. The choreographies take into account the Latin American rhythm, emphasizing the liveliness of this style. Aurora’s divinity, her being a star, finds expression again and again as she is brought from ballet to various lifting-figure postions. A feast for the eyes, as everything fits together.
The finely staffed orchestra under the direction of Christoph Huber played very skillfully through the concise rhythms. In the solo pieces of the actors they clearly underlined their attitude. From aggressive to threatening from dreamlike to impulsive, everything was there. Very often was also the play with the volume, whereby the Crescendi should have ended sometimes earlier. Especially dramatic end sequences were sometimes overly loud. But in principle these musicians as well as their directors master the big drama!
Phew, I do not know where to start. This piece has touched me immensely. It is immensely complex, so many little things come together. Ingenious performers put so many thoughts into my head that combined to give me such a rich overall picture. A masterly novel novel was cast here as masterfully in stage form. How do you pour the interpretational thoughts into a blog?
More than any other musical, this musical is a terrific character study. Two such different characters in a confined space, incurring great tension, often discharges into pithy, fast and provocative dialogues. Above all, Molina often drives this repartee to the top with disarming nonchalance.
Go to hell!
Here we are!
In a chamber drama like manner, the viewer entertainingly observes these two characters in their conflict and their development. The starting point is their large variety, which could not be bigger:
Antitheses Molina/ Valentin
Emphasizes female / emphasizes aggressive-male
Molina is gay, but also stressed feminine: He wears nail polish and accessories. His whole way of moving and speaking points in a transsexual direction. He sings about Marta and attests her great fortune to be a woman (Being a woman). At this point Molina’s quiet, suppressed longing is expressed.
Even in a duet with his mother, it becomes clear that he is different from what other people expect. This deviation from the norm and the associated devaluation torment him. Nevertheless, he wears his feminine side in prison openly and endures humiliation.
His adoration for Aurora, the way he lives his way into this ideal: One can see in Molina’s face that he is completely in this role. His glances for her are full of fascination, inner peace: fulfillment.
Quite different Valentin, who comes as an emphatically male part very aggressive and uncompromising, has no sense and no eyes for Molina’s posturing and therefore visibly delineated.
Perfect surface / values and ideals
Molina is a window dresser and that says everything about him, you need to know: he is committed to the perfect surface. The exterior must fit, he sings that he has the look for it (Style and decor).
His job is an allegory of his life. Molina feels rejected as a human, of society and in prison, of course, anyway. The confrontation with himself, with who he is, unsettles him and hurts (It is no shame). Molina prefers the perfect appearance.
I loved Style and decor because the director chose such a beautiful picture: Molina gradually brings the mannequins to life! They are not lifeless and rigid, but as alive as Molina’s imagination. They are Molina’s life. He is good there.
All the more tragic the scene when he is released from prison and is working as a window dresser again. You can tell that he no longer feels comfortable with it. Rather tormented he gets to work. But the doll remains a doll this time. This time they did not come to life, but remains what it is: a surface to be decorated. And the right question is asked: What did the prison do to you? The time together with Valentin has dug deeper. The surface alone is no longer enough.
The relationship with the waiter breaks after prison. It was also just superficial (we never slept together!).
There, where only the surface is touched, nothing can be broken or broken in depth. All derogatory remarks about him hit this surface, but do not touch his heart, not him as a human being. That’s how his life works, that’s his survival strategy.
When someone pervades Molina’s surface and touches his foundations, when he is inexorably facing pain, then panic comes. Not looking or hectic activity helps him to survive these situations. And Aurora. Aurora is part of this strategy: Aurora is perfect and, moreover, equipped with all the emotions that Molina so longs for but does not allow out of fear. But she lives on the big screen (a surface!). Through Aurora, he safely lives off all longings without the danger of injury, as they are in prison everyday.
In the end, Molina is tortured in prison and I was deeply shocked to see what they did to him.
Did you see the wounds in his face? They were recognizable as deep cuts. His face, his perfect surface: cut up! But it did not matter anymore in the end.
Myth Spider Woman
The Spider Woman, a role of Aurora, makes Molina fear.
The spider woman weaves the thread of life, she weaves this thread further for the people and determines their fate. In many myths, the spider is therefore the guardian of life. But she also weaves nets to catch prey. If the prey is in it, it will not escape.
And the moon grows dimmerOriginal lyrics
At the tide’s low ebb
And her black beads shimmer
And you’re aching to move but you’re caught in the web
Of the Spider Woman
In her velvet cape
You can scream
But you cannot escape.
Molina suspects that he is already trapped in the net. This is reflected in the numerous interspersed short appearances of the spider woman. Again and again she reminds Molina that he will not escape her. Terrified, Molina reports to Valentin that the spider woman is real, that he saw her in jail. Of course, where torture and even murder are on the agenda. He is sitting there, too. The prison is virtually the net. And Molina has to watch as several inmates succumb to the spider woman.
I like the allegories of the musical. Also the kiss.
The kiss of the spider woman is deadly. In truth, another kiss seals Molina’s fate: with Valentin’s kiss, all his pent-up feelings, which he normally lives through Aurora, suddenly become tangible in reality! Here the surface is broken through, a limit that can be seen even in the cell is exceeded. The step out of these narrow limits to freedom of feeling is a major turning point for both men. The kiss interweaves two initially life-hardened concepts of life, opening up individual freedom for everyone. Two threads become one, Molinas finally ends.
The relationship Molina / Valentin
Unlike the tender Molina, Valentin is the physically rough and aggressive part. Valentin is obsessed with his cause, with his struggle. But slowly he has to reflect his situation through Molina’s demands and provocations. In doing so, clear cracks are brought to light: Valentin does not really live up to his highly exhibited values: with Marta he loves a woman of the class opponent.
Loyalty to the comrades is the top priority for Valentin, his ideal. Painfully, he must admit to himself and Molina that he violates this loyalty with the love of the wealthy Martha herself.
At the same time, Loyalty unconditionally brings him to Molina: in an exceedingly touching scene Molina takes care of Valentin when he is poisoned. He does everything so that Valentin does not have to go to the infirmary, where he could betray possible secrets under drugs. The man of the beautiful surface surprises him with this property.
Valentin, meanwhile, shows Molina a man who is ready to fight openly against the system for his own ideals. He shows him that content, that depth can be important. That one’s own values can actually assign a value that is worth defending. That they are meaningful part of their own identity.
The approach of both culminates in a heartwarming scene: Valentin figuratively crosses a border (the one on the cell floor) and approaches Molina. Why? Because I want it! Valentin, imprisoned in the ideal of a collective, transcends boundaries, opens himself a little apart from his original idea.
The last scene I shared was horror, intense and shocking: Molina, who was hurt and already outwardly destroyed, is threatened with death. Molina squeezes out: Valentin, I’m scared: do not look away, I’m scared.
The fear that Molina has permanently hidden using Aurora, now remains real in his life. Do not look away!
As the first time a tortured inmate is brought as a threatening gesture in the cell of the two, Molina calls on Valentin: Do not look! The change and the associated sacrifice of this man, who has never looked, has always pressed his palm to the eyes to see nothing, is expressed so immensely exaggerated.
Why are you doing this? asks Valentin screaming. Molina’s answer: Because I want it! It is the bravest confession of oneself. One, as before, when Valentin was physically close. Just as the following I love you to Valentin. He has perceived his feelings, allowed himself. Before that he sang: I would do anything for him! He did it. He left the surface. He tragically pays for his life.
Molina – Drew Sarich
O.K., take a deep breath in and out. Last year, when I read the announcement that Drew would play Sarich Molina, I knew I had to see that. I had the idea that I would never have seen anything better before. And it has come true.
Drew met Molina 100%. I always notice that when a character spreads out before me like an open book. I could read this Molina. He was authentic, he was close to me. I was absolutely caught in the play. Molina bodily stood on the stage.
Molina, the horny homosexual
I love how Drew embodies that: his whole posture and how he always rhythmically lets his bare right foot teeter while sitting. The way he puts his hands in the side. In general, the game with the delicate fingers… Similar to the vampire count Drew plays a lot with his hands and fingers, but in a very different way. The suppleness continues in his movements in the dance. he brings a extroversion that meets a sensual physicality. Drew says he does not like dancing. Why the hell?
Molina, the fearful
Fear, even panic, is a defining emotion in Molina’s life. He glosses over thick with glamor or Aurora. But sometimes, when she breaks out, then I suffer too. Drew immediately lets Molina press both of her hands against her eyes, fingers outstretched. He does not want to look, he can not. Then he crawls onto his bed, almost dislocates himself, makes himself small as an embryo and rocks himself. In some situations, he increases his speaking speed so much, because the situation should pass quickly. His movements become erratic, he turns and turns.
Molina, the esthete
The window dresser who loves style and decor. He likes to show this with his lacquered fingernails and the fact that he dines in style in the cell: on the improvised table, with artfully folded napkins, if available. He can create the perfect look and makes it even a hand edge kink in the pillow. That makes him safe. The humiliations that affect his way of life bounce off him. It is only the surface on which his opponents work off.
For all his superlative zest for life and his whole positive mood Drew Sarich from Molina makes such a tragic figure: you can literally feel his loneliness, the whole piece over. Not even he finds himself. You can feel how little he is one with himself. But how grandiose he breaks out of this loneliness when he touches Valentin for the first time: Drew makes Molina tremble with happiness and excitement: The voice trembles, his hands tremble, his whole body seems in turmoil. The happiness flows through him formally, even before the intimate union he seems completely in ecstasy.
I just have a special connection to this way of playing. It’s as if Drew would completely compress what the character is and wants and lay it down at my feet.
I can grab this Molina in every detail. I like him, I suffer with him. Drew makes that I can feel Molina.
Do you have to go into the vocals? As powerful as ever, he swings it to the highest heights. He has every tone under control, fills it out. The articulation is impeccable, you understand every word.
Drew Sarich sings notes that fit right in my ear!
Valentin – Martin Berger
The play lives from the contrast of the two men and in the course of which Martin Berger Valentin appears extremely male-aggressive. He does this with all the power available to him. At the same time, however, he also succeeds in releasing the suppressed feelings for Marta in his personal quarrel. The musical focuses on Molina. But only with a worthy Valentin does its role work as intended. Martin Berger acts very carefully. He remains the physical, the hard part, which would never betray his movement under torture. He conjures up the revolution, but he allows himself and the viewer a look away from the black and white thinking. The way in contrast to Molina much coarser way he brings to the voice. I could not always understand his lines of text in its entirety. But this is also due to the orchestra, which bravely tries to play out Valentine’s uncompromising attitude, but is also often extremely loud.
Martin Berger has mastered his part to the unequal duo Molina / Valentin wonderfully.
Aurora/ The Spider Woman – Ann Mandrella
Actually Ann Mandrella embodies many roles, namely all those who embodied the film diva Aurora. At first you have to emphasize her condition, because the choreographies are demanding and then the good woman has to sing well and correctly! She does that flawlessly.
The characters of the aurora summons them to the stage: The glamorous, elegant ladies, the dazzling showgirl, the South American Sambaqueen. In doing so, she can very subtly present the individual characters in different ways. Fantastic. I liked them all but maybe the samba dancer. Ann Mandrella was not supple enough for me. But given. She has done great singing and dancing.
In one scene, she is completely focused on her acting: In the scene where Molina tells the story of the Russian singer who is supposed to marry an unloved man and perish while trying to protect her secret lover, she has outdone herself. Even the Russian accent is to kneel down. With a good dose of self-mockery, she and Drew are dramatically inflated and that’s what makes both, but mostly Ann, perfect.
Ann really magical succeeds in her spider woman. I like her voice, especially in depth. Her attitude is terrifically successful: seduction, menace puts her in the voice. At the same time a slight arrogance and self-assurance. I am always amazed what one can hear in a trained and professionally used voice. The spider woman is tangible and looks really great.
The lighting sets gives her a final dignified scene. Standing alone on the top of the balustrade, she stands in the circular headlight-light and her shadow is clearly visible in the moon that has formed. And the moon grows dimmer… In addition this wonderful and beguiling voice – goose bumps guarantee!
Prisoner / Gabriel, Prisoner/ Aurelio, Prisoner/ Fuentes and another Prisoner: David Rodriguez, Thiago Fayad, Peter Knauder, Carlo Schiavone
These four each have their own small role, but also support as an ensemble choir and dancer. They move wonderfully and look fabulous on top of that. These four young men were cast perfectly and each deserves high praise. David Rodriguez particularly impressed me as an insecure waiter, admired by Molina.
Marta – Elisabeth Ebner
As Valentine’s love, she appears in the dream sequences. She is part of an indescribably beautiful quartet from Molina, his mother, as well as Valentin and her: Love. The four voices harmonize very well.
In another scene, the spider woman and Marta compete for the injured Valentin, lying on the ground. The spider woman ensnares him (I’m wonderful), wants to kiss him, but Marta also uses it I’m wonderful against it. Elisabeth Ebner shines in this role with great naturalness and wonderful voice.
Molina’s Mother – Andrea Huber
She is the only love in Molina’s life, his constant and his safety. She is the only what he craves. For she is the only one who stands by him and his kind: It is no shame to go a way…
Andrea Huber puts a lot of emotion into play and voice. One hears hope that she wants to convey to her son.
Often I only mention the main characters in my reviews. But I can not help praising the dancers of production. The aesthetics with which they have choreographed the choreographies, these wonderful movements! I’m lost in it. All the physical energies, the precision of the movements, the rhythm… I’m still blown away.
Oh my God! That was the most touching piece I’ve ever seen.
I am well aware that all spectators are different. The piece is not easy and if only the issue because not everyone’s taste. But I hope I was able to express that the very complexity of the musical alone has totally taken me personally. And then the implementation was almost perfect. Stage and costume, music and actors: all together have put on stage one of the most successful musicals I have ever seen. A deep bow to the courage of stage Baden to bring this piece and to the director who has worked brilliantly. My thanks also go to the performers for their extraordinary achievements. I have to see that again!
Translation and Photos: Dr. Joachim Schlosser Photography