Ashley is directing the Actor’s Express version, with openly gay Craig Waldrip as Molina and Bryant Smith as Valentin. To escape the pain of being in prison Molina envisions a character known as the Spider Woman.
“Molina tells Valentin about movies he grew up watching as a kid and how he became obsessed with one actress,” says Ashley, who is also gay. “One character the actress played was the Spider Woman, who is death. When she kisses people they die.
“His reality has blurred in prison and he thinks he sees the Spider Woman lurking in the shadows. He loves the actress but he has always been afraid of that character. He learns to accept her and begins to realize that she is warm and loving,” he says.
The two men sharing a cell could not be more different.
“They come from different backgrounds and have things they both feel strongly about,” says Waldrip. “At first Valentin thinks what he cares about is more important than what Molina does. Molina cares about movies and clothes. But he sees that Molina’s obsession are his way of showing the world his own idea of love and acceptance, something he has longed wanted, something Valentin is after. They are fighting the same thing.”
Although Valentin is straight, the two men form a relationship and eventually love each other.
“Is Valentin gay? No,” says Ashley. “But he loves Molina as a brother. They can see each other as human beings.”
According to Ashley, Valentin teaches Molina to assert himself, not to be humiliated and to be proud of his identity.
Besides the gay character of Molina, Ashley feels audiences will like the Spider Woman character, a diva’s diva, leading an array of splashy musical numbers. Yet Ashley acknowledges the production has substantive issues.
“It’s about realizing that love isn’t bound by rules – it can have different forms and permutations,” he says. “The show is also about survival, which we turn to for empowerment.”
Actor’s Express’ 25th anniversary season has another gay-themed play in the works. Following “Spider Woman” will be the world premiere of Steve Yockey’s fantastical “Wolves.” Although Ashley didn’t plan this as he was crafting the season, he sees now that each of the shows in the season has a sense of “reality vs. fantasy, what is really happening.”
Waldrip first saw “Spider Woman” 20 years ago and it touched him deeply.
“I fell in love with it then and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days,” he says.
Top photo: Actor’s Express opens its 25th anniversary season with ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ starring Bryant Smith (right) as Valentin and Craig Waldrip as Molina. (Photo courtesy Actor’s Express)