Angels In Revolt

This wild ride of a play is weird and wonderful

Summer weather hasn't quite arrived in South Florida, but the Sol Theatre isn't in the mood to wait. This Fort Lauderdale-based company is setting off some fireworks of a theatrical nature in an uneven but sometimes dazzling production of a wildly imaginative play called Marisol. The Sol, in only its second season, may be one of many new theaters in the area, but it has already established a clear identity as a cheeky, friendly crew that's not afraid to wrestle with difficult material.

Marisol, written by Jose Rivera, has to do with an ordinary New Yorker, Marisol Perez (Guisela Moro), a deeply Catholic, Puerto Rican copyeditor for a Manhattan publisher. Marisol, who grew up in the Bronx, still lives there despite the crime, the drugs, and the screaming fights of neighbors who pound on the walls in the middle of the night. On a nighttime subway ride back from work, Marisol encounters a lunatic with a golf club who is about to attack her. But unseen by all, Marisol is shadowed by her guardian angel (Nicole Holliday), a vigilant winged woman who protects her from all harm.

Later that night, the angel hovers in Marisol's apartment as she prepares for bed. In her dreams, she is visited by the angel, who tells her a troubling tale. It seems that the world's misery -- increasing crime, violence, and mayhem -- is the result of God's advancing age and weakening power. To save the world, a group of renegade angels plans a revolt to overthrow the heavenly bureaucracy. Marisol's angel plans to join the revolt and must leave Marisol unprotected. But the angel gives her one last warning: When the revolt comes, the world will go topsy-turvy, and nothing will right it until the battle is won. Marisol awakens with a vivid memory of the dream but tries to carry on with her ordinary life. A friend from work, June (Erynn Dalton), invites her over to her place. There, Marisol is accosted by June's bipolar brother, Lenny (Ford D'Aprix), whose ravings tend to echo both the man on the subway and the angel from her dreams. Soon, Marisol faces a series of nightmarish events as her dreams become her reality.

Nicole Holliday (left) and Guisela Moro: coping with God's weakening power
Nicole Holliday (left) and Guisela Moro: coping with God's weakening power

Rivera's script is an intense, poetic vision. There's an echo-chamber effect to much of the writing; a series of images -- the golf club, the attack, the angelic revolt -- crop up over and over throughout the play, in mirroring events and in casual conversation, as Marisol searches for some meaning through the chaos that has been visited upon her. Written in the early 1990s (it won a Best Play Obie in 1993), Marisol centers on a number of pre-millennium preoccupations: the idea of angels at work in modern life, an urban society on the verge of collapse, and a sense of impending general doom as Y2K approached. These ideas are also central to Tony Kushner's even more fantastical Angels in America, which was created in 1991 and tended to overshadow Marisolwhen both were new works. Still, Marisol today carries considerable fire and force and a certain prescience -- its many references to apocalyptic fires, smoke, and burning flesh are eerily reminiscent of 9/11.

Robert Hooker's production is a showcase of imaginative theatricality. The Sol stage is tiny, yet Hooker and his inventive cast manage to conjure up a vast cityscape of cramped apartments, offices, looming city streets, and dangerous, dark subway cars. As Marisol, Moro ably handles a difficult task -- she's the sweet, likable center of a nightmarish whirlwind, a kind of contemporary Alice in a cataclysmic Wonderland. Weird events and characters whirl around her as she struggles to maintain some shred of normalcy. This kind of character can grow tedious quickly, but Moro is completely watchable from start to finish, even though she is on-stage virtually every moment.

She is backed by some fine character actors, whose effectiveness is a true mark of how far the Sol has come in its short life. When the company opened with The Tempest in the fall of 2001, Jim Gibbons' Prospero was amiable but tentative. But in Marisol, Gibbons is an inspired wild man. In a one-scene cameo, he's a hyperkinetic, ponytailed actor who accosts Marisol with the misguided belief that she can recover residuals he claims he's due. Later on, he's a legless homeless man, a modern-day doomsday prophet whose face is hideously disfigured by burns. Gibbons' work, simultaneously menacing and hilarious, is matched by D'Aprix, another Tempestveteran who nearly steals the show as Lenny, the tortured brother, and Merry Jo Pitasi as yet another bizarrely comedic character wandering through Rivera's apocalyptic fever dream.

With such assets, the production creates a lot of flash and bang, but other aspects fizzle. The sound and light designs are complex, and as of the opening weekend, many cues seemed slow, dragging the pace of an already-long show. And Rivera's script, while dazzling in its imaginative reach, tends to stall in the second half and disintegrate altogether at the end, when a de rigueur finale turns into a Power to the People celebration that seems as corny as it is uninspired. Despite this, Marisol is a welcome dose of theatrical inspiration. If you're looking for a wild rocket ride of a show, now's the time to go for some Sol.

 
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