Friday, May 11, 2018

"Marisol" by Theatre Coup D'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Theatre Coup D'Etat has done it again. They've brought us an interesting piece in an intimate setting with innovative staging and a talented and diverse cast. A piece that pushes boundaries and makes the audience think. I never know what to expect from Coup D'Etat, as I didn't with Marisol, currently playing at SpringHouse Ministry Center, but it's always worth my time. For this play written by Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera they've enlisted Puerto Rican #TCTheater artist Ricardo Vázquez, which is the smartest choice they made with this piece, because it lends an authenticity and an understanding of the culture and traditions from which this play was born. It's a wild ride, one that's at times confusing or difficult to watch, but so chock full of meaning and symbolism that I can't even begin to unpack it all. The production is very thoughtful and detailed, and not one I will soon forget.

It's also difficult to describe, so I'll share Coup D'Etat's description:
Winner of the 1993 Obie Award, Marisol is an apocalyptic urban fantasy which urges society to "wake up" and somehow find a way to recover the long-lost and much-needed compassion for our fellow man, as this is the only way to save our world. Angelic warfare, mental illness, and the disintegration of modern society are the themes of Marisol as we follow Marisol Perez, a young Puerto Rican woman, through a disturbing and disorienting world that pushes the boundaries of conventional theology, biological sex, personal relationships, and the pathology of fear and paranoia.
Something bad has happened in the world, some sort of plague or natural disaster, and the moon hasn't been seen in months. Marisol is an independent young woman from the Bronx who takes the subway into Manhattan every day to work for a company that publishes science books. She receives a visit from her guardian angel, who tells her she can no longer watch out for her because she needs to go to war to depose the old and ill God. The next day Marisol learns that a woman with her name who lives in her neighborhood was murdered. Weird, huh? After this particularly difficult day, her friend and coworker June invites her home, where she meets June's mentally ill brother Lenny. This is when things start going downhill. Everyone ends up on the streets, which have become a disaster area. Marisol searches for June, and meets several interesting people on her journey. A journey that ends back where we began.

the cast of Marisol with Dana Lee Thompson as the Angel
Marisol has more Catholic imagery than this year's Met Gala, both in the design and in the play itself. The SpringHouse Ministry Center is the perfect setting, with crosses hanging everywhere. The play opens on a coffin with an ornate Bible lying on top of it. In the first act, scenes are announced like chapters in the Bible. Marisol has a small table in her bedroom filled with statues, candles, and rosary beads. At several points in the show characters sing hymns I remember singing in Catholic grade school. And then there's the Angel, at war with God (somewhat reminiscent of the recently revived Angels in America, which first appeared on Broadway the same year Marisol premiered). This play is a powerful exploration of faith, and culture, and survival in this scary world.

The play is mostly performed with all the lights on (until things get weird, or weirder, in the second act, with some cool and unsettling lighting effects by Mark Kieffer), the audience sitting on two or three sides (there's some slight rearranging at intermission) of the performance space. This intimate setting allows the audience to observe the actors up close and personal, almost uncomfortably close as the excellent seven-person ensemble completely commits to the terror of the situation. As the title character, Sabrina Diehl is wonderfully open and natural, a welcome guide through this difficult journey. Dana Lee Thompson is radiant yet earthy as the avenging angel in a gorgeously tattered gown and wings, to be replaced by combat boots and army jacket (costume design by Chelsea Wren). Kelly Nelson is strong as June, who goes through a transformation of her own. Craig James Hostetler as Lenny is the perfect picture of a disturbed person trapped within his own delusions, terrifying and sympathetic all at once. Rounding out the cast playing various memorable characters that Marisol meets on the street are AnaSofía Villanueva, Nikhil Pandey, and Pedro Juan Fonseca. Under the direction of Ricardo Vázquez they all work really well together as an ensemble, creating some cool physical theater effects including the rumbling of a subway car.

I'm still not sure I know what this play is about, or what it means, exactly. But it definitely gave me plenty of things to chew on. Written 25 years ago, with just a few disturbing modern references in the grafitti on the walls, Marisol still feels relevant, or maybe timeless, grappling with the big ideas of life. What more could you ask of a Thursday night in Uptown?

Marisol has just six more performances this weekend and next, with tickets sold on a sliding scale from $18 to $40. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.