Prison Song: 'Kiss' Resounds in the Agassiz

Persecution, oppression, humiliation, and above all, fear. Welcome to the lives of Molina (Stefan Atkinson '03) and Valentin (Stephen Toub '01), two men trapped in an Argentine prison. Molina, a gay window-dresser serving time for corrupting a minor, sits alone in his dark prison cell avoiding further torment from the warden and his frighteningly faithful guards when Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, is thrust inside the room. Although Molina nurses his fellow prisoner back to health, their relationship becomes anything but friendly: Valentin, a suspected conspirator, wants nothing to do with the "dizzy," chattering Molina. But as this tale unfolds, the cellmates come to learn the importance of friendship in this horrific world. Molina introduces Valentin to the fantasy world of Aurora (Shelby Braxton-Brooks '03) who promises to provide escape and an end to their misery with just one kiss: the Spiderwoman's Kiss of Death.

As the two men discover their similarities in their seemingly contrasting lives, their friendship becomes strained by the prison warden's attempts to persuade Molina in obtaining the names of those involved in Valentin's rebellious plans. The warden, brilliantly played by Brian Gatten '01, promises Molina the opportunity to leave the prison and go "Over the Wall" to his dying mother. The cowardly prisoner, indifferent to his fellow prisoner's politics, thus, is left with a most difficult decision-a decision that grows increasingly complicated when Molina realizes his feelings for Valentin are more than those of friendship. What ultimately happens is shocking, controversial and simply put: not for kids. Although Molina's fateful decision is perhaps not what one desires, it is certainly one of great heroism and courage.

Wonderfully cast as Molina and Valentin, Atkinson and Toub deliver tremendous performances in this production based on Manuel Puig's highly acclaimed novel. Both charming and nave, Atkinson wins the audience's affection from the opening scene. As he struggles to make his mother proud, remain loyal to Valentin, and above all, stay true to himself, the audience never gives up hope that he will, in the end, prevail. Toub, a former Din and Tonic and veteran of Harvard theater, defines the meaning of power in his performance. Highly impassioned by goals of a better future for all, Toub as Valentin assumes the position of a natural leader on the Agassiz stage. His powerful voice resonated through the theater, his expressions of torment and outrage unmistakable in his every motion: he was in one word, awesome. Shelby-Braxton Brooks, last seen in the Freshman Musical, added grace and memorable style in her role as Aurora. Beautifully choreographed by Sara Heller '01, Brooks' dance numbers with her eager male followers brought enthusiasm and life to the dejected prison. Not only does Braxton-Brooks hold her own as the illusory Aurora, an extremely difficult role to play as she must transcend reality, she does it with flair.

The strength of the production undoubtedly also lies in its supporting cast. Sarah Eno '03 and Ashley McCants '02 deserve special praise for their resounding performances as Valentin's love Marta and Molina's mother. Their duet in "Dear One" is especially unforgettable. Brian Gatten too demands an awesome presence on stage as the Warden. Kudos also to Scott Rowen '02 and Adam Robbins '00 for strong performances.

The 25-member orchestra, coordinated by Philbert Hong '04, proved essential to the success of the musical as it provided exciting interludes and set the atmosphere of this dramatic tale. Set designer Phillipa Brashear '01 and Lighting Designers Emily Oster '02 and Marcie Ulin '02 worked beautifully together to transform the Agassiz into the brutal prison. The direction of the cast by Sara Heller is also highly commendable. It's not every day that a musical about prison life under a dictatorship with a healthy dash of controversial political and social issues can be turned into something as energizing and captivating as this production of Kiss.


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