REVIEW | Marisol challenges us all

Produced by Theatre Coup d’Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center through May 19

Theatre Coup d’Etat has made a brave move with José Rivera’s play “Marisol.” The premise is provocative, the action disturbing and the characters flawed and intriguing.

In Rivera’s apocalyptic urban fantasy world, God is old, senile and dying, and violence prevails. New York City is a place filled with sinister threats from the lawless and the law. The angels and the rest of the heavenly host feel compelled to insurrection; war is the only way to save the Earth.

That means abandoning the protection of the Faithful, such as a bright, young Puerto Rican woman, who works at a high-level job in Manhattan, but continues to live in the dangerous Bronx neighborhood of her childhood. “Marisol,” played by Sabrina Diehl, can choose to cling to her religion, or she can follow the angels into war.

So says her guardian Angel, played by Dana Lee Thompson, fiercely bedecked in tattered, yellow gown and shredding wings. Thompson was a powerful presence, carrying those spectacular wings boldly and commanding attention with her marvelous voice.

A small ensemble creates multiple scenes with little more than a handful of props, tables and chairs. Kelly Nelson plays “June,” Marisol’s co-worker and best friend. Nelson, as a strong foil for Marisol, gives us a flinty, brittle character stuck in an impossible family responsibility – her brother, Lenny, played by Craig James Hostetler. A complicated, broken man, the character swings our emotional loyalties from one extreme to another, a challenge Hostetler embraced with finesse.

Marisol escapes an attack in the subway by a man wielding a golf club. Nazis roam the streets, randomly dousing the homeless in gas and setting them afire. Break-ins threaten daily. Anger boils up on all sides. The “Woman in Furs” (AnaSofía Villanueva) has been ruined by a small credit card infraction. In Villanueva’s portrayal, the woman earns pathos, not scorn. Nikhil Pandey’s “Man with Golf Club/Scar Tissue” gives us a welcome lighter approach, although the man’s dilemmas are every bit as tragic as the others. Pedro Juan Fonseca’s powerful frame and sociopathic demeanor made for an especially interesting scene with June and Marisol.

The metaphors stack up for our protagonist and point to the heart of the matter for her and for the audience: what do I really believe? Diehl gives us a completely likeable character, made vulnerable by her internal conflicts. She hasn’t had to face them before. Have we? It’s a tough role in every sense, and Diehl really delivers.

Given the questions posed about religion, the space – a flexible use chapel in the SpringHouse Ministry Center – was an appropriate setting, but it was also acoustically lively, which muddled some of the dialog, especially shouted lines. With a play that starkly balances sometimes poetic language and society-gone-berserk action, we needed every word to follow the story and its nuances, particularly because the protagonist’s motivation is less than clear and the arc of the story follows it’s chaotic premise. I found myself asking, “What does she want? Where do I want this to go?”

Marisol runs scared and confused – who wouldn’t be? But somehow hope stays with her and keeps us going, too, to the play’s grim, cloudy end. But it does feel like an end to the horror, and maybe even a new beginning, just as the Angel promised.

Ricardo Vázquez directs. Recommended for mature audiences.

 

 

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