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'The Life of Spiders' Full of Buggy Metaphors

By Kristin Sterling

Kate Kohler Amory working as a spider.
Photo by Pam Traynor; courtesy of Holderness Theatre Company

Kelly Stuart's latest work, The Life of Spiders, is not inspired by a special interest in arachnids or natural history. Instead, the playwright and Suzanne Gold Farkas Lecturer in Playwriting's new play has a literary origin, Balzac's novel La Peau de chagrin, to be precise. The play, produced by the Holderness Theater Company, opens off-Broadway at the Culture Project on March 20 and runs through April 11. It is directed by Rebecca Holderness (SOA '95) and features Tuomas Hil (SOA '04) in the lead role.

The Life of Spiders is the story of a Parisian man who attempts to weave the finest and most-sought after fabric from the silk of spiders. In an attempt to win over the woman of his dreams with beautiful clothing made from this silk, he makes a Faustian bargain that leads to his death. The play is a meditation on desire.

"In the 1800s, people really were attempting to extract silk from spiders to obtain their incredibly strong and flexible silk," said Stuart. "But it is very difficult to get enough silk for clothing -- because unlike silkworms, which can be raised together, spiders kill each other. The spiders have a metaphorical parallel with the human characters -- they are driven by instinct to devour each other."

In addition to its scientific background, the play includes imaginative elements, such a silk trapeze, similar to those used in Cirque du Soleil . The actors have been training for months to use the trapeze, from which they can hang upside down or use as a curtain.

"Tuomas Hil is great for the lead role," Stuart said. "There is something exotic and mysterious about him, and he has a physicality -- and the physical training -- to make us believe he could be both human and spider."

"It has been fascinating to work with a Columbia University alumna director, Rebecca Holderness, and playwright Kelly Stuart, who teaches at the Theatre Division," Hil said. "I realize that an integral part of our collaboration is our shared vocabulary. Columbia's Andrei Serban, Anne Bogart, Niky Wolcz, Kristin Linklater and Arnold Aronson all seem to be very present in each rehearsal through references, quotations and anecdotes."

Hil has recently performed in Benvenuto Cellini at the Metropolitan Opera (directed by SOA's Andrei Serban) and No Exit at the Horace Mann Theater. Originally from Finland , Hil is studying at Columbia on a Fulbright Scholarship. Among her recent productions, Stuart wrote the full-length play Mayhem, which ran in Los Angeles last spring and featured Megan Mullally.

"The Life of Spiders" runs March 20 to April 11 at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street. For additional information or tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit www.theatermania.com.

Published: Mar 19, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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