Lost in the Heavens

As an apocalyptic urban fantasy, Jose Rivera's Marisol is too unrealized to be what it obviously wants to be: a theatrical equivalent of the second coming. Rivera focuses his play on what happens to Marisol, a young, professional Hispanic woman living in New York City, when earth's guardian angels abandon their earthly mission to wage a heavenly war against a senile God. Though Rivera occasionally establishes a vividly ominous atmosphere, that's about all the playwright does. Schematic, repetitive and reportorial, Marisol, at its best, speaks in tongues while slumming in sci-fi. Main Street Theater's laborious production only makes it that much more ineffectual.

What's particularly disappointing about the play is that it contains writing that's as lovely as it is disturbing. "Am I pregnant with the Lord's baby?" Marisol wonders when her guardian angel visits her for the first time. (She's not.) "Is the new Messiah swimming in my electrified womb? Is the supersperm of God growing a mythic flower deep in the secret greenhouse inside me? Will my morning sickness taste like communion wine?" Later, Marisol meets a character named Scar Tissue, who, as his name intimates, has been literally devastated by the goings-on. "My bubbling skin divorced my suffering nerves and ran away looking for some coolness," he explains, "some paradise, some other body to embrace. I smell like a barbecue! I can eat myself! I can charge money for pieces of my broiled meat!"

Unfortunately, Marisol reels off so many such poetic riffs that you can't help but feel that Rivera's too in love with his own lyrical, doomsday voice. By milking his effects, Rivera strains his language, and so robs his words of the very potency they're attempting to achieve. "I don't wanna get in the middle of some celestial Vietnam!" Scar Tissue moans. "I don't want any more angelic napalm dropped on me!"

The relentless pursuit of heightened descriptions results in other important elements being neglected. Plot, for instance, and theme. Marisol is asked by her guardian angel to join the fight, but the angel's beef with God is unintentionally trite, as are Marisol's reasons for first declining, and then ultimately accepting, the invitation to be part of the holy war. For all of Rivera's imaginative evocations, what he ends up depicting is standard-issue paranoia and foreboding; both the subject matter and what he does with it are none too original, and all too superficial. If a play is about an oncoming apocalypse, then the dramatic terrain ought to involve spiritual geography. But Rivera opts instead to talk about how the moon has disappeared and apples have become extinct.

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Maniacs are on the loose and credit card companies resemble Big Brother; Nazi skinheads strut their stuff. A lunatic man gets pregnant with what turns out to be, of course, an abomination. And then there's the other Marisol, someone mostly off-stage who has the same name as the heroine and who is killed sensationally; she's supposed to be symbolic of something, but just what that something is remains elusive. In fact, the heroine Marisol is herself elusive: her character isn't developed enough that you really care about what happens to her. Though it's less than two hours long, the play feels like slow going because Marisol's odyssey comes across as both arbitrary and contrived. As for the payoff, it's an anticlimactic, clichd gyp. In the closing speech, when Marisol reveals the new millennium, she rhapsodizes, "New ideas rip the heavens. New powers are created. New miracles are signed into law. It's the first day of the new history. Oh God. What light. What possibilities. What hope."

What a cop-out.
Marisol wants to be raw, fiery, thrilling, furious and funny. ("Are you going to make miracles?" Marisol demands of her angel. "And reduce my rent?" The angel has other matters to think about. "It could be a suicide," he says. "A massacre. He's better armed. Better organized. And, well, a little omniscient.") But director Ron Jones displays no sense of how to establish the proper tenor and tempo. The many scenes of Act One, and the many encounters Marisol has in Act Two, get bogged down because they're treated too deliberately. The pacing should be breathless, as if the world is gaining frenetic momentum. But Jones simply plods along, unable to or uninterested in moving things along at the needed warped clip. It's hard to be affected by a soundtrack of sirens, street traffic and gunfire when a classical-cum-Spanish guitar is the segue between scenes. The numerous fight scenes are long on mechanics and short on inspiration. An uninventive set of little more than a few skewed windows and walls shouldn't need three designers. And if ever there were a show in which lighting should be crucial, but fails to be, this is it.

With the exception of Rodney Walsworth, who's unsettling as Scar Tissue and as a lunatic, the entire cast, most of whom play more than one role, overexert themselves, failing, despite their fervor, to create any defining characteristics. Marisa Castaneda as Marisol in particular signifies nothing. It speaks volumes about Main Street's production of this flickeringly provocative, but mostly facile, play that the strongest sense of urgency is created by a costume: an angel's black leather jacket and ripped jeans.

Marisol plays through March 30 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 524-6706.

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