Juan Castañeda is deep into rehearsals for Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s production of MARISOL. Jose Rivera wrote the play 25 years ago but now, shortly before its October 28th opening, MARISOL speaks directly to the moment.
“Our current insecurity about identity, the place of non-whites in the U.S. – it’s all in the play,” notes the 35-year-old graduate of the Theatre School at DePaul University. Castañeda has worked at many Chicago theatre companies such as Urban Theater Company, Chicago Fusion Theatre, Halcyon and Colectivo El Pozo. MARISOL, his first project for Promethean, begins previews on October 20th on Raven Theatre’s 55-seat West Stage.
Castañeda’s own family came from Mexico in the mid-70s. His parents first lived in Wrigleyville when it was just called Lakeview, and later moved to Albany Park where Castañeda attended Von Steuben High School. That makes him not only a northside Chicagoan but a Cubs fan too.
Guardian angels and the Cubs
In Rivera’s absurdist comedy, guardian angels try to kill off an aging, ineffectual God. What possible connection could there be between MARISOL’s story of deicide to the Cubs’ World Series win last year? Scary ones, in fact: The Ricketts family revived the 147-year-old team from its debilitated state. As they performed this heavenly feat, the Ricketts also became major Trump supporters – one more contribution to the anxiety sweeping the country.
Now in its 12th season, Promethean Theatre Ensemble sought a play that “would resonate with the political times that we’re in right now,” explains Castañeda. His connection to Rivera’s work aligned with that goal – and fulfills Promethean’s mission to combine passionate storytelling with design simplicity.
Metaphors and music interact
Castañeda points out that when MARISOL opened in New York in 1993, Rivera said “We need to find new heroes and new myths for our society -- the old ones just aren't working. The God we know now is a right-wing, white male, corporate God, in whose world racism, sexism and political injustice are rampant. As the millennium nears, I am amazed these things are still valid.”
A quarter century later, these issues still burn hotly. Also compelling for Castañeda is how Rivera “distinguishes religion from spirituality in an amazing way. That’s a huge difference. When religion becomes a political entity – in a figure like Trump – it’s propaganda. Not spirituality.”
As with many Rivera plays ,Castañeda finds that “the symbolism of MARISOL reminds me of the music I grew up with as a child. I would listen to old cassettes with my dad in the car and the metaphors of the music are identical to Rivera.”
Castañeda considers those hours spent driving through neighborhood streets to be a fundamental part of his upbringing. He keeps his feet in his hometown while his ears and imagination are tuned into his family’s pre-Chicago heritage in Central America. Through Castañeda’s work as a director, that distinctly American cultural fusion leaves its imprint on the city’s many stages.
For more information on Promethean Theatre Ensemble and its production of MARISOL, running October 20 - November 26 on Raven Theatre's West Stage , go to:
[Editor’s Note: Juan Castañeda directed Cars and Quinceañeras by Susan Lieberman at Clockwise Theatre in 2013.]
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.