A dark comedy/drama laced with magical realism that straddles important themes but still manages to have a goofy, playful side, Marisol may not have the urgency it did when it first appeared in 1992, but time has been kind to playwright José Rivera’s work. David Crowe is directing an enjoyable version of it at the Mary Gray Munroe Theater at Theater Emory through April 12.
A winner of two Obie Awards — including one for this play — as well as an Oscar nomination for his The Motorcycle Diaries script, Rivera will actually be present for an April 8 talkback session after a 7 p.m. performance.
Described as “an urban fantasia,” the play’s plucky heroine is Marisol Perez (Natalia Via), caught up in an apocalypse and unaware that she is about to travel down the rabbit hole. She works as a copy editor for a Manhattan-based publisher, but still lives in the same Bronx neighborhood she has since she was a child.
Making her way home one evening, she avoids a subway attack by a disturbed man with a golf club. Later that night, she is visited by her guardian angel (Danielle Deadwyler) who delivers some bad news — she can no longer protect Marisol. God has gotten old and senile and she has been asked to be part of the revolution rising up against him.
The ensuing chaos spreads into New York City and the area becomes a war zone. Marisol decides to stay with her co-worker June (Veronika Duerr) in a better part of town, but isn’t aware of June’s brother Lenny (Brandon Partrick) and his obsessive feelings for her.
On the war-riddled streets, Marisol meets a variety of characters: Woman with Furs (Christy Baggett), an affluent type who has exceeded her credit and is now on the streets; Man with Ice Cream (Geoffrey Solomon), looking for his pay for being an extra in Taxi Driver; and Man with Scar Tissue (Travis Drapers), looking for his lost skin. Marisol may also be the only play I can think of where a pregnant male character delivers a baby.
When Marisol bowed it was another era, on the heels of the Reagan administration. More than 20 years after, the play seems a different one, but post 9/11, it proves to be still relevant and timely in many ways.
Director Crowe has had an unusually busy and successful last year, with Ravens & Seagulls at Essential Theatre, The Elephant Man at Georgia Ensemble Theatre and the recent Silent Sky at Theatrical Outfit under his belt.
He clearly has confidence and a clear vision of the piece. It’s creatively staged, and Crowe and his team use every conceivable nook and cranny of the Theater Emory stage.
Kudos to set designer Leslie Taylor and scenic artist Sara Culpepper. Their New York night world is especially vivid, with graffiti spray painted on walls, an apartment complex with activity behind windows, and cages on either side of the stage. It’s highly theatrical, a world where homeless people wander the street amid battle and revolutionaries.
Marisol has a large cast of professional actors and student actors. That can sometimes be awkward when newer performers try to hold their own with seasoned ones, but Crowe handles everyone efficiently.
Via finds just the right tone as the young woman trying to figure it all out. It’s a role that demands a lot of the actress, physically and emotionally. Duerr makes June a compelling character and Baggett is unforgettable in a small but vital role. The same goes for Deadwyler, a versatile actress recently profiled as part of ArtsATL’s Maker’s Dozen series.
That said, Act II isn’t nearly as successful as what has preceded it. It loses focus somewhat and doesn’t have quite the punch Act I does. Nonetheless, Marisol is a zippy ride that comes back alive in the final passages. It’s one of the strongest shows I’ve seen at Theater Emory.