In December 2021, after a semester of involvement with marquee musicals like Cabaret and American Idiot, Jordi Bertrán Ramírez (TC ’24) needed a new challenge. He wanted to stage a production that forwent all the glamor and theatrics he had grown accustomed to, one that would embrace the intimacy of theater. Manuel Puig’s 1983 play Kiss of the Spider Woman fell into his hands at the perfect moment. He read it for the first time over winter break at his father’s recommendation. Bertrán Ramírez was excited by the text, as dazzling as it was harrowing. Set during Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1970s, the narrative follows two prisoners, Molina and Valentín, who are thrown in jail for different crimes. Over two acts, the audience watches as the characters become less entrenched in the gravity of their situation and more entangled in each other.
To Bertrán Ramírez, Puig’s subject matter was a glimmering beam of light. Revolutionary for its time, the production broke taboos by bringing themes of queer identity and Latinx struggles to the stage. Upon further investigation, Bertrán Ramírez discovered that Kiss of the Spider Woman had only been put on in the U.S. five times since its debut. Its strength and originality made it an obvious choice for his next project.
This February, after 14 months of planning and eight weeks of intensive rehearsal, the show is finally ready. Bertrán Ramírez, who plays Molina in the production, spoke with me about the effort that went into producing the play. David DeRuiter (DC ’24), who plays Valentín, and Joaquín Lara Midkiff (SY ’24), the director, attributed the success of the show to Bertrán Ramírez’s passion for the piece. From the beginning, Bertrán Ramírez had decided that he wanted this play to be put on by an entirely Latinx cast and creative team, which, he said, “took some getting imaginative.” Bertrán Ramírez sought people that he knew to be experts in their respective fields, but who didn’t necessarily have conventional theater experience. Director Joaquín Lara Midkiff is the perfect example. Bertrán Ramírez and Lara Midkiff worked on the production of I and You together last winter, with Lara Midkiff serving as dramaturg. To Bertrán Ramírez, Lara Midkiff stood out as a candidate for directing Kiss of the Spider Woman. Lara Midkiff explained to me that “the idea of being a director is a little bogus. The only thing you really need to know is how people work and interact.” Bertrán Ramírez has an eye for talent, something that proved incredibly helpful for finding the rest of his team. Forgoing the traditional audition process, he relied on his experiences with fellow creatives to bring his vision together.
From the moment I walked into their rehearsal, it was clear that the cast had absorbed Jordi’s passion for the project. After Lara Midkiff called “action,” both DeRuiter and Bertrán Ramírez’s demeanors immediately shifted. On one side of the room, DeRuiter laid on a desk meant to be a cell bed. The thoughts behind his eyes were Valentín’s. He was inattentive, frustratedly doodling in a notebook. It was impressive to see how much effort went into behaving in such a detached manner.
The other side of the room told a completely different story, as Bertrán Ramírez’s face shifted to a smug grin. He became Molina, a man imprisoned for his perversion, dramatically recounting the story of one of his favorite old romantic Hollywood films. His syllables were songs; he let the end of every word roll off the tip of his tongue. A two-actor show with limited scenery and costumes, Kiss of the Spider Woman relies on strong actorly presence to advance the narrative and emotional arc. DeRuiter and Bertrán Ramírez’s chemistry is so fluid that they make it look easy.
Deciding to put on Kiss of the Spider Woman was a risk. Its limited theatrics and compelling characters force the audience to engage closely with themes of sexuality, love, trust, and escapism. The production requires strong execution, but the team Bertrán Ramírez put together is not only equipped—it embodies the reason we should be putting on more shows like this. Kiss of the Spider Woman challenges our notions of theater. As Bertrán Ramírez put it, “Any story that challenges us to think about ourselves and our social contexts is worth putting on.”