Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Jamie Bragg and Rosie Ramos. Photo by Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography.
By Bec Willett
My cheeks still feel the crispness of the cold night air as I stare at the words graffitied onto the set of Promethean’s MARISOL. I read the short, haphazard words that invoke big ideas of war and racism and injustice. Despite knowing that the worlds of Jose Rivera’s plays are usually more magic than reality, the relevance of these words makes their weight linger with the night’s coldness.
Rivera is known for his absurdist, magical plays harnessing the power and beauty of language. In his “36 Assumptions About Playwriting”, one of the many notes he makes on the importance of language is that “Beautiful language can be like beautiful music: it can amuse, inspire, mystify, enlighten.” A supernatural story about an apocalyptic earth in the midst of an angelic war, his play MARISOL is no exception. It’s unfortunate that Promethean’s production finds itself unable to show his language for the music that it is.
There’s a sense that the different types of artists in this process struggled to find a unified vision. The cast all possess a watchable quality, especially Rosie Ramos’ Marisol whose warmness entices us into her world, and Mike Cherry’s bold physical choices which define characters Lenny and the wheelchair-bound burn victim. But instead of harnessing these actors’ skill and the visual symbolism of the text, Juan Castañeda’s direction undermines it with commonplace movement and underdeveloped relationships, muting the strength of the actors and the power of Rivera’s language. Of the cast, it is only Jamie Bragg in her role as the Woman in Furs that truly seems to understand the style of performance and language inherent in Rivera’s style and allows the text to create the music Rivera refers to.
To a designer, MARISOL can offer a great deal of opportunity, but here also there is a struggle between visions. Lighting designer Liz Cooper has tried to bring out the supernatural quality of the story and the magic of the language, but the direction continually pulls it towards function rather than poetry. This is especially jarring during the transitions between scenes, which use blackouts rather than some fluidity to maintain the world. Likewise, the costumes and props often seem to fulfill the requirement, but without much finesse.
It’s equal parts impressive and scary that Rivera’s 1992 play is still relevant today. And while this production lacks the cohesive vision necessary to do it justice, there are still moments where the music of the language is able to be seen.
MARISOL runs through November 26th. For more information visit prometheantheatre.org.