José Rivera’s Marisol is a dystopian look at a post-apocalyptic time when a war among machine gun-toting angels, part of a heavenly rebellion against a God pronounced senile, has caused devastation as destructive as anything humans perpetrated with their inhumanity towards each other. To use a term from 20 years before Marisol appeared in 1992, the play is phantasmagoric in nature, filled with magical realism and high-flown poetic dialogue. The title character encounters a number of troubled characters, but they seem more like symbols than flesh-and-blood people. And you must listen closely to those characters’ stories, plus the words of an angel who visits Marisol at the time of her possible murder says, to figure out what’s going on. You may feel as if you need a scorecard to keep track of who is alive, and by what means.
Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez, in a meticulous performance, plays Marisol Perez, a young woman with an impressive degree and a significant job in publishing. She’s upwardly mobile and solidly in the middle class. Yet she lives in a depressed area of the Bronx where crime is rife, drugs are rampant, and neo-Fascists immolate the homeless or luckless who choose to slumber in nearby Van Cortlandt Park.
Marisol considers a better life in Brooklyn, with a close friend as a roommate. She has religious faith to fall back on. And she is streetwise enough to defend herself. But is she really living in the Bronx after all? She may be the Marisol Perez who was murdered on an uptown 6 train one night. Or not. Rivera makes us wonder.
There’s much to admire in Director James Ijames’ production; Ijames knows how to set a joke and stage conversations between Marisol and her friend, June (Laura Barron). And Ijames and Set Designer Parris Bradley have crafted some remarkable effects.
O’Hanlon-Rodriguez always finds the perfect pitch and delivery for each of Rivera’s lines. She plays Marisol’s bravery, persistence, cunning, and determination well. She also conveys the confusion Marisol summons these positive traits to defeat, and deftly handles the physical demands of a difficult role.
Nikitas Menotiades does a funny turn as a man burnt to death by skinheads while he slept in a park and who now wanders the burnt-out NYC boroughs looking for his skin and urging human affection. And Leo Bond, Patrick McAndrew, Kim Shiner, Alexandra King, and Barron play other supporting roles well.
Jerold L. Forsyth’s lighting helps establish the dichotomy of a world without end coming to an end. John Stovicek’s sound design can be chilling and evocative.
Marisol plays though Sunday, November 20, 2016 at Villanova Theatre, performing in Vasey Hall on the Villanova University campus, in Villanova, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 519-7474, or purchase them online.