BWW Review: MARISOL at Trinity Rep
Trinity Rep closes out their 2018-2019 season with Jose' Rivera's MARISOL, the 1993 Obie winner for best new play. It's a hodgepodge of magical realism and absurdism set in a rapidly disintegrating New York City, and is grand in scope as we learn that people's guardian angels have to abandon them to fight a war in the heavens. There is a lot to wrap your head around in this layered story, but a lack of clear direction makes it hard to find desperately-needed footing. What the audience is left with feels like a lot of sound and fury.
Marisol Perez, Octavia Chavez-Richmond, is an editor for a science publisher in Manhattan, but she still lives where she grew up--the Bronx. On the subway home one evening, she has an encounter with a strange man with a golf club, and then is visited by her guardian angel (Mia Ellis) later that night. The guardian angel informs Marisol that she can no longer look after her. God is old and senile and he needs to be replaced, but he won't go without a fight, so all the guardian angels have to leave their earthly charges and take up the cause. At first Marisol accepts this news without much fuss, but the state of things on earth quickly devolve into absolute chaos, and she is tossed from one strange situation to another.
Marisol's character is a vehicle for the audience to encounter this strange new reality of what the world has become, and the playwright doubles down on the discombobulation by never making it completely clear if Marisol survived her encounter with the man on the train, or if she's in some kind of purgatory. Octavia Chavez-Richmond is a charismatic actress who it's easy to root for, but it really seems like director Brian Mertes didn't give her much in the way of a point of view. This play is overflowing with potential, but this actual production is so muddled and murky that it feels like everything is just overwhelming.
All of the actors deliver capable performances. Angela Brazil as Marisol's co-worker June gets a few laugh lines, but feels a bit cartoonish at times. Charlie Thurston displays agility as June's brother Lenny, who is at turns sweetly sympathetic and terrifying, and Mia Ellis brings a calm and solidity that one would certainly want in his or her guardian angel. Unfortunately, it's hard to find a lifeline to cling to in a play of this nature, and that takes away a lot of the necessary tension to make it compelling watching.
The sets by Eugene Lee are spare and functional, which works well in contrast to the jam-packed script, and gives the actors plenty of open space. Costumes by Cait O'Connor aren't fussy, but work incredibly well to telegraph a lot about the characters without being distracting. In particular Marisol's suit, which is very eye-catching, but also has the look of something that a girl who grew up in less wealthy circles would think that white-collar office workers wear.
This play has a lot of potential, but the execution is what ultimately makes it fall a bit flat. It's never satisfying to walk away and feel a bit stupid for not "getting" a play, but it's also very clear that this production is trying to say something--less clear what that something is.
PROVIDENCE, RI: Trinity Repertory Company presents Marisol. Performances run May 16 - June 16.
Tickets are on sale by phone at (401) 351-4242, online at www.TrinityRep.com, or in person at the theater's box office at 201 Washington Street, Providence.
Photo: left to right, Brian McEleney as Scar, Octavia Chavez -Richmond as
Marisol, Charlie Thurston as Lenny (back, floor), Mauro Hantman as ensemble, Angela Brazil as June, and Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ice Cream Cone. Photo by Mark Turek.