BWW Review: MARISOL Explores an Unlikely Apocalypse at Mary Moody Northen Theatre in Austin, TX.
Never one to color inside the lines, St. Edward's University teams up with local award winning Director Liz Fisher for their staged production of MARISOL. Written and premiering in the early 90's, playwright José Rivera blurs the lines between Manhattan and the prophesied war of the heavens in the new millenia. Introducing the idea that a celestial being can die, God has grown old and senile, and the war to save the world ensues as threatening plagues begin to cross the Greater New York area. Spotlighting The Bronx, and its increase in crime resulting in a seriously unsafe place to live, we meet Marisol (played by Abbygail Cortinas) dodging, quite narrowly, an attack on the subway while travelling home from work. Barely managing to make it home, Marisol is visited by her guardian angel, (played by Sierra Sterling) to reveal the cause of the chaos currently infecting the world. Confusion overtakes Marisol as she wakes up after this encounter, pondering its legitimacy as she enters her Manhattan office, greeted by her best friend, June (played Taylor Hildbrand). Sharing their fear of the disappearance of the moon and everything tasting too salty to eat, they decide to travel to June's apartment in Brooklyn for reprieve and safety. While there, she is harassed by June's manic brother Lenny (played by Andrew Mueller), and yet another element of danger is introduced through his rather strange obsession with Marisol. Tensions run high as Lenny is kicked out and Marisol decides to live with June, but not before she must travel all the way back to her outlandishly dangerous neighborhood in The Bronx for her things. Buckle up for a bumpy and extremely emotional ride while Marisol, Lenny, and June each find themselves in precarious situations as the city begins to crumble on their journey to reunion.
Between the pontification of right and wrong, the emotional outbursts from our characters and the ethereal dialogue, MARISOL is a special brand of tea. A few elements that stand out in St. Edwards staging of this play are the abstract and avante-garde use of actors, set design and lighting. These elements continue to work together from scene to scene, threading the play together as a whole. Something as simple as a spotlight and falling dirt becomes beautiful, and then returns later in a more morbid meaning. The flipping of the staging elements from a positive meaning in one scene, to something sinister later, or visa versa, is the level of detail this type of story needs to combine all the elements of good and evil. In fact, this pendulum is evident in Toby Minors' portrayal of Lenny. While he comes off as kind of creepy yet innocent at first, his behavior turns frighteningly violent and all while the audience does not know why they are rooting for him. This is a credit to Minor's layered performance of a man living in the gray between the black and white of good and evil. The heightened platform on stage toggles between safety, peril and the world ending war in the middle. At every turn, the information presented in one scene, is questioned in the next. Providing a multi-dimensional experience of what the ultimate meaning is, the show leaves the audience pondering the likely chaos that would ensue in a world turned upside-down.
With such a heightened level of drama, given the premise is the battle for human existence, the theatrical reality portrayed by the ensemble was so intense, as the play progressed terrible violence and shocking scenes began to unfortunately lose meaning. Additionally, the vocal technique and direction comes into question when yelling becomes the main form of communication for the better part of the show. Regretfully, dialogue was lost in the mix of yelling and while there are peaks and valleys of emotion in any story to be told, it seemed the mountain the audience climbed with the onstage storytellers didn't provide either side a chance to catch their breath. That said, the post-apocalyptic vibe with such an interesting premise, is an intriguing look at the relationship between humanity and God. Flipping tradition on its head, this experimental performance piece is a unique expression of the examination of these elements. Running at two and a half hours with a 10 minute intermission, the price of admission is well worth the overall storytelling and expert staging elements brought together. As Marisol's safety is questionable at the end of her journey, audiences can breathe a sigh of relief to leave the Mary Moody Northen Theatre in one piece.
Photo Credit: Bret Brookshire
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