Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Marisol
Theatre Coup D'Etat
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Under This Roof and An Enemy of the Peopleand Kit's review of This Bitter Earth


The Cast of Marisol
Photo by Crag James Photography
Marisol, José Rivera's take on a dystopian New York City in the grip of a war between God and the angels, premiered in 1992, winning an Obie award in 1993. At that moment in time, New York City was in dire straits. Crime rates and unemployment were high. The city was an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, which had become the number one cause of death for men between 25 and 44. Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani had not yet enacted the "broken windows" theory of policing, with strict enforcement of such street level crimes as graffiti, turnstile jumping, and panhandling. The clean-up of New York's highly visible Times Square that replaced drug dealers and X-rated movie houses with mall-friendly retailers and chain eateries was several years away. Riding the subway was a dicey proposition. Labor unions were losing their capacity to keep working people a step above hand-to-mouth existence. Marisol spoke to that sense of a civilization's slide toward an abyss, with the heartbeat of that civilization, New York City, leading the way.

Twenty-five years after its premiere, the always adventurous Theatre Coup D'Etat has unearthed Rivera's Marisol, mounting it at the SpringHouse Ministry Center in Uptown. The venue seems ideal, a room where people gather for reflection and spiritual comfort, a large Christian cross affixed on one wall. Marisol is the tale of Marisol Perez, a young woman of Puerto Rican parentage born and raised in the Bronx, who has been protected from personal assault and other street crimes by a guardian angel—only after one final escape, from a golf-club yielding assailant on the subway, her angel informs Marisol that God is dying and dragging everyone down with him. Therefore, the angels are preparing to wage war against God, "to restore the kingdom of heaven and the power of the unions. " Her angel leaves Marisol with the decree, "You will have to fight, so give yourself some power."

At Marisol's office in a Manhattan high rise, there are abundant signs of social deterioration well underway. After a frightening close call with an office intruder, her tough-skinned co-worker June invites Marisol to stay in the relative safety of her apartment in Brooklyn. Safety turns out to be an illusion there as well, as June's mentally unstable brother Lenny struts around in his underwear, revealing his obsession with Marisol. Marisol then encounters impossible scenes and people—a man searching for his missing skin, a woman who has been violently beaten because of a bad credit rating, a secret cemetery for the dead babies born to the homeless. Marisol is basically a good person, never seeking a fight, but she finds inner strength to do what she must while trying to avoid Lenny and reconnect with June. There is little reason to hope for things to end well.

Rivera employs a blend of magical realism and theater of the absurd, creating bizarre, fantastic situations that draw upon the rampant dysfunction of the moment, with familiar locations re-ordered, as when Marisol wonders how the Empire State Building could suddenly be north of the Bronx, and characters common to street life elaborately spun into mythic figures. With all food turning to salt and the air saturated with smoke, the viability of any life surviving is under siege. At times it is difficult to sit through, in part due to the cruelty and hopelessness on stage, at other times because the slow-paced staging by director Ricardo Vázquez lingers uncomfortably on the indicators of civilization in flames.

Sabrina Diehl is very good as Marisol. In the first act she conveys the nonchalance of an urban dweller grown accustomed to constantly fending off the threats and indignities of her daily life, passively watching as the life she has chosen to endure crosses a line to be unendurable. In the second act, with Marisol adrift and learning to be a warrior, Diehl shows her building the hardness that is now required.

Craig James Hostetler conveys Lenny's disturbed character, menacing, yet with a sense of innocence beneath his surface that tempts one to forgive him for his transgressions. As his sister June, Kelly Nelson is the opposite, with an exterior that seems calm and well adjusted, but providing a window into an inner core of malice that is equal to Lenny's more obvious brutality.

Nikhil Pandey manages to be quite moving in the unlikely role of the man searching for his skin, revealing a desire to form a human connection amidst the no man's land that has overtaken New York. Dana Lee Thompson conveys a convergence of beatitude and fury as the angel, conveying meaning with a shift in her gaze, or the sucking in of her cheeks as clearly as in her words.

Scene changes are accomplished with ingeniously rearranged folding tables and chairs, sometimes draped with a large bedspread. Philip Godfrey Forest has designed a terrific soundscape that adds color throughout the play—from the toll of church bells to the noise of a blaring radio and neighbors arguing in Spanish outside Marisol's window, to the roar of the subway, to the terrible sounds of war. Chelsea Wren's costumes convey the off-kilter essence of these characters—all but Marisol, who is dressed in practical, unassuming garb as fits her quality of being a blank slate on which good and evil forces make their imprint, with the evil far in the lead.

What does Marisol say to an audience in 2018? Some lay claim to our civilization being dragged down by evil forces, spelling doom unless we rally our better angels to fight back. Of course, the nature of those "evil forces" lies in the eyes—and the politics—of the beholder. Are we truly at risk of a holy war that may, in striving to save us, be our undoing? Those are huge conclusions to draw from Rivera's dystopian fable. It can offer comfort to think of this as fantasy, yet the basic order of the day, the schism in our national character, each painting itself as good and the other side as corrupt, vile and dangerous, may be a difference only of degree.

However, in Marisol it appears that the rise of destruction does not come from either side of a partisan divide, but from the absence of a stabilizing force, the vacuum created when God checked out. When one considers the history of humanity littered with episodes of mass violence, greed and intolerance, the question raised by Marisol may be that it is well past time for the world's people to seek in themselves and one another the platform to balance our disparate world views, rather than counting on an external, eternal power to do the heavy lifting for us.

Marisol, through May 19, 2017, at SpringHouse Ministry Center, 610 W. 28th Street, Minneapolis MN. For more information about this production and Theatre Coup D'Etat, visit theatrecoupdetat.com.

Writer: José Rivera; Director: Ricardo Vázquez; Costume Design: Chelsea Wren; Light Design: Mark Kieffer; Sound Design: Phillip Forest Godfrey; Stage Manager: AnaSofía Villanueva; Producer: James Napoleon Stone.

Cast: Sabrina Diehl (Marisol), Pedro Juan Fonseca (Man with Ice Cream) Craig James Hostetler (Lenny), Kelly Nelson (June), Nikhil Pandey (Man with Golf Club/Scar Tissue), Dana Lee Thompson (Angel), AnaSofía Villanueva (Woman in Furs).


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