“Marisol” by Jose Rivera is the epitome of avant-garde. The play — in which an eponymous young Latina woman is conscripted to fight against a senile God — is stereotypically artsy: Marisol prophesies her own death, a heavenly war spills into New York City, and the angel wears wing-back tattoos. But how does one stage the complete destruction of the world, let alone of New York City? That was the tall order that director Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12 took on as her senior project. Together with Cleo Handler-Jedrlinic ’12, also completing her senior project as the title character, the girls face difficulties in bringing this apocalyptic narrative to the stage.
Walking into the set of Marisol is like walking into another world from the floor up, with metal ladders hanging from the ceiling and graffitti adoring every wall. The lighting combines with a musical lull and drone to create a truly haunting and melancholy environment for the battle for humankind — ostensibly the play’s plot. The story is rich with hefty themes, including the nature of good and evil and the struggle for equality of an ethnic minority. The heavenly fight displays the dangers of false idolatry, not only of God but of social classes and institutions as well.
But the execution of these conceptual themes fails to come alive onstage. In the first few scenes, characters faced away from the audience and often spoke towards the floor, making it difficult to hear what they were saying. Additionally, many of the scenes had no established location — and it was sometimes difficult to figure out which characters were involved in the action of the scene and which were simply part of its ambience. At one point, the characters were grasping at falling ladders — clearly meant to be a metaphor, perhaps to signify the destruction of New York City — but the symbolism was far from evident.
Combined with the fact that both the script and the direction do not initially draw in the audience, the pacing of the play lagged. Though there were a few emotionally jarring scenes, such as when Marisol almost gets raped, the energy of the production came more from the amazing graffiti backdrop than the play itself. And even then, the production could have benefitted from a simpler setting to complement the complexity of the plot and its symbolism.
Despite the play’s thematic difficulties, Handler’s performance was exemplary. The audience could certainly follow her character’s emotional struggles. But her character could have had much more depth: though there were superficial references to her lower-class Puerto Rican background, the play as a whole ignored the larger issue of her struggle as the play’s sole minority character.
In the end, “Marisol” is well meaning: it admirably attempts to probe deep philosophical questions and execute a technically difficult theater style. Yet viewers are left wishing that the play’s plot w