Marisol is reminiscent of old school, vintage dark comics, only without the Super hero. Its darkness permeates everything, from the tattered wall hangings to the graffiti filled floor and lacerated and junk yard furnishings piled up for the set design.
In playwright Jose Rivera’s dark fantasy world, the celestial moon and stars have disappeared, and not just tucked behind mushroom clouds of debris, but actually gone, vamoose, adios. Such altered states of the physical universe can only mean one thing – the forces of good have become sick and tired of being sick and tired of the planet’s plummeting degradation and have risen up to take on the Almighty to set a new course. It’s a safe bet that no good will come from a sistah angel walking across the length of the stage with an Uzi cocked and ready to blast her way to kingdom come. This is a scary place. Welcome to the fantastical world of Jose Rivera.
In the title role, Veronica del Cerro imbues Marisol with a remarkable sweetness wrapped around a core of strength and fortitude as tough as granite. All she wants are the simplest, routine things– to complete her subway commute to her 9-to-5 in the city, return to the Bronx, smash a scurrying roach or two from the legion of vermin that share her grimy hovel and start it all up again, the next day and the day after that.
From her opening scene with fellow passengers riding the ubiquitous NYC subway, however, it is clear that all will not go well for Marisol when her routine is shattered by a normally quiet homeless man who slowly goes berserk, encroaching menacingly into her space. Her life and world are never the same after she has a near- or actual – death experience and her already dim prospects spiral even farther downward from there.
The grimy, gritty post-Apocalyptic Manhattan is hell on earth, even for an urban renegade guardian angel played by Holly Bass who would probably listen attentively to the children’s bedtime prayers that the characters desperately resort to, except she has just too damn much on her plate.
Alexander Strain taps into his dark side and moves the actors through the dismal terrain effortlessly like he’s been there and back. The characters lurch and lunge at each other, spitting and hurling explosive bits of language like Molotov cocktails while the edges of “normality” shift and deteriorate. The characters remain remarkably resilient and stay true to their own interior motivations no matter how bizarre those might be. Marisol, for example, is repelled and physically sickened by the disfigured appearance of one character only to grow fond of him enough to consider him a love interest literally within moments, and it works. In the second act, a pregnant male character goes through labor pains and the birth process like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and it probably is, at least in that altered state of things. Strain orchestrates fearlessness among the actors and they thrust purposely through each scene and event no matter how horrific.
Helen Pafumi is wonderful as Marisol’s perky and big hearted office colleague, turned buddy roommate, turned brazen eyed, programmed vigilante assassin committed to ridding the world of debtors and nonconformists even if it means dousing them with gasoline and burning them alive. Production values in light and sound design by Andrew Griffin and Christopher Baine for that scene alone set the bar awfully high for anything playing anywhere else for the rest of the year. Brandon McCoy and Patrick Bussink in their multiple roles also deliver blazingly effective and deliberate performances.
Though probably not for the squeamish or faint at heart, Marisol teeters on the edge with brilliant language and imaginative scenarios to warrant a visit. Rivera is particularly gifted in grafting bits of topical reality onto moments of sheer lunacy creating an unreal universe that feels eerily familiar. At the same time, he provides just enough heart for tiny glimmers of hope to peek through the pain. Besides, when reflecting on Marisol, there’s something comforting about seeing the horror of what could be to transform a boring, road raged routine work commute into a heavenly experience. And you’ll never take a simple child’s bedtime prayers for granted again.
Written by Jose Rivera
Directed by Alexander Strain
Produced by Forum Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 2:00 hours with one intermission
For Dates, Tickets and Directions click here.