On Wednesday, my production of Jose Rivera's play Marisol opens at UNC Asheville. When we initially chose it, I thought Rivera's play was a fascinating mix of the gritty and the sublime -- Quentin Tarrantino meets Richard Wagner.
I have described this play to those who have asked me about it as dark, but in a lot of ways it is a play that is extremely moral. The message, I think, is that the privileged of this world cannot turn their back on the problems that beset the poor, the insane, the homeless; that we cannot huddle in our enclaves and gated communities and be safe while others are suffering and action needs to be taken. This message, I believe, is particularly important now, after Katrina has shown how the poor were left behind by the wealthy.
Marisol Perez, the title character, is a Puerto Rican woman in New York City who has been fortunate -- she is educated, middle class, and has a good job in publishing. The world has disintegrated around her: the ranks of the homeless are growing, and there are groups of Nazi skinheads who are wandering the city setting them on fire; the environment has collapsed, and coffee is extinct, cows are giving salty milk, the moon has disappeared and hasn't been seen for months; the government is in total chaos. In the midst of this, Marisol tries to live her life as best she can by avoiding danger and hiding out in her Bronx apartment.
Things have gotten so bad that the angels have decided to take action. They have decided, very sadly, that God has grown old and senile and is taking the rest of the world with him, and that they must kill him to put the world on another path. Because they are going to war, they can no longer serve as guardian angels for the people of the world. As a result, Marisol suddenly finds herself on her own and unprotected. The play, then, takes us through a series of encounters as the war in Heaven begins and the world is turned upside down. She tries to maintain her life the same way she always has, but in the end she cannot escape the chaos of the world. She must do something. In many ways, it is a hero's journey -- the story of a hero who has attempted to avoid her role, but who finally accepts it. The last words of the play, as the new world is born, is "Oh God. What light. What possibilities. What hope."
However, the journey itself is a dark one -- sort of a "Dante's Inferno" experience in which the hero must experience and confront the darkness. I have tried to make that darkness human, but it is darkness and desperation nonetheless. It is like the Passion that must take us through suffering before we emerge into the light.
I have asked the cast to make a Herculean effort to live the desperation and violence of the play fully, while at the same time trying to find what is most vulnerable and human in even the most violent character. This is not a play that points a finger, but rather tries to illustrate the common situation we share, the common vulnerability, and the common responsibility.
I am nervous about the production, because it is difficult for everyone involved as well as for the audience. I am also nervous because I care deeply that the play's humanist message come across, and I worry that I haven't made it clear enough, powerful enough. I guess we'll see on Wednesday.
Once the show opens, I have plans for many more posts than you have had in the initial few weeks this blog has been in existence. I hope you will bear with me until then.