Sunday, March 16, 2014

Marisol, The Collision Project

Imagine living with layer upon layer of existential threat. Imagine that your very own guardian angel pulls a Lucifer and goes rogue (at least she seems to have a good reason). And all heaven breaks loose. Imagine inside is outside, you're totally exposed, the people you love can't remember your name, you're not sure if you're dead or alive, you have to take sides, but the sun is rising in the south and setting in the north, and you can't get there from here.

That's Marisol, by Jose Rivera, directed by Ryan Higgins, in the inaugural offering of The Collision Project

After seeing a lot of your standard psychological realism fare lately (and some of it, sadly, not very good), a few hours of magical realism with tropes and themes and archetypes and symbols and poetry and graffiti and all sorts of other dramatic deliciousness went down smooth. 

Carolyn Marie Monroe and Ben McFadden in Marisol.
For one thing, the play dances circles around more thorny theological questions than you can shake a thurible at. You can find a lot in this play; one of the ways I enjoyed it was as a send up of the end-days left-behind crowd I knew growing up in the evangelical world. What if people who actually are the outliers in our society—people who have immigrated, people who can't afford to live where they work, people with brown skin, people who can't hold down a job, people who are overdiagnosed and overmedicated, people in debt, people who love the wrong people, people who are losers (according to the capitalist winners), people who march to their own drum, people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time—are the people who are invited into the revelation delivered by a fulgent messenger, invited into the light. (Yeah, I know, that's actually really biblical, which makes Rivera a better theologian than Tim LaHaye. Go figure.)

For some intellectual fun, the structure of the play is like a slinky. Mobius magic, as it spirals and twists in on itself and somehow ends up getting from here to there. It's like music; you have to be able to hold a theme or two in your head and recognize when the artist is restating, recapitulating, stretching, bending, and playing around with it. It's a fugue, not a ditty.

The play has serious roots; for antecedents there's Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of course; a generous dose of theater of the absurd; Dostoyevski, I think; evangelical catholicism, obviously; and a good hit of the kind of high Apostle John must have been on at the island of Patmos when he went all war-of-the-worlds. Awesome!

OK, so I like Rivera's play. And The Collision Project's production? I liked it too.

A lot of my appreciation for the production comes from the play's effect on me. This was one of the most absorbing, riveting, and upsetting evenings of theater I'd been to in a while. I have a bit of a tendency toward anxiety (ahem) and this play played on that tautness like sympathetic vibration on a well tuned guitar. I found myself feeling strung and checking in with myself during and after the play to remind myself that everything's pretty much ok for right now in my little world, and, so far as I know, the world is not coming to an end just yet (right?). Given that dramatic excitement-and-relief, it was a satisfying evening of theater; something to feel, to sink my teeth into, to mull over, and to talk about for days with the Weisenheimer.

So how'd they do it?

Dramatic art, baby, dramatic art. The set: staged at Seattle Inscape, now a history, arts, and culture facility, formerly an INS facility. The stage oddly L-shaped and "marred" with doorways that turned out to be integral to the play. Smart. The lighting: parsimonious, which is to say, brilliant. The performances: Ben D. McFadden was indefatigable, indestructible, indelible, and creepy. We've seen Carolyn Marie Monroe in a number of very different roles over the years (including Juliet in R&J, Rachel Stein in End Days) and to all of them she brings a sweet steeliness. This play needs it. The vulnerability, credulity, and faith in her portrayal of Marisol make the whole improbable thing possible. And she gets herself all the way around Rivera's poetry. Libby Barnard; we had no idea she could be so fucking fierce. Shermona Mitchell was a grounded angel, even before she fell to earth; and Jill Snyder-Marr was unhinged as the Woman in Furs. Finally, Carter Rodriquez is now giving me nightmares with his vivid portrayal as Scar Tissue, seared in my memory. He laid down a rhythm with his physicality, pathos, penache, and humor.

And, of course, it all comes back to the play itself, the story. Like all the best plays, it's about big fat juicy questions. Safety and protection vs threat and exposure. Loyalty and fidelity vs righteous rejection. Roots and heritage vs coming completely unmoored. Revelation, and how the hell you'd recognize it. What side of the battle are you on. And all done with craft and skill; imagination and verve; creativity and hope. I would like more theater like this, please.