From the opening scene, in which a golf club-wielding homeless man delivers an apparently delusional monologue about his guardian angel abandoning him as he advances menacingly on the title character—only to have the truth of his rant verified as Marisol’s own celestial protector steps in to defend her—it is clear the ordinary rules of the world are not what they once were.
Humor and Anguish Coexist in Dystopian Present
In José Rivera’s play, Promethean Theatre Ensemble works to strike a balance between the supernatural consequences of the Apocalypse and its more mundane fallout. The production’s press materials describe it as an absurdist comedy. Although there are certainly moments of laughter sprinkled throughout, a better word might be parable. Or nightmare.
Marisol premiered in 1992, a full twenty-five years ago, yet Rivera’s prescient message and imagery ring truer than ever. While rebel angels battle to save all of creation from a senile Creator whose “universal mind is wracked with amnesia, boredom, and neurotic obsession,” down on Earth mere mortals grapple with such familiar threats as extinct species, predatory credit card companies, chemical attacks on civilians, gangs of Nazis attacking folks on the streets, and an immersive climate of fear.
Marisol Perez is a young woman on the edge, a New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots, a white collar worker who chooses to keep living in the rough Bronx neighborhood she grew up in and commute “light years” to her posh job in Manhattan. In an odyssey through a city where reality is falling apart but everyday monsters lurk around every corner, she fights, hides, bargains, and marches her way through racism, misogyny, and exploitation of every kind. Promethean Theatre Ensemble does not let the audience look away from the simultaneous horror and ridiculousness of her plight, and Rosie Ramos shines in the title role as she struggles to get herself and her friends safely through to the new Millennium.
Promethean Theatre's Designers Leans Into Play’s Magical Realism
A brick wall covered in graffiti dominates the stage, informing every scene with a sense of otherworldly foreboding. As the play follows Marisol from a bus stop to her apartment to work, to the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx and beyond, a mere handful of set pieces—a chair here, a fire hydrant there—set each scene. Liz Cooper’s lighting and Sarah D. Espinoza’s sound design complement and enhance Jeremiah Barr’s scenic design, each well-timed flash of light or burst of machine gun fire drawing the audience into the action.
Most remarkable are the costumes by Uriel Gomez and props by Arielle Valene. Gomez’s outfits transform an amiable copy editor into a vicious, skulking skinhead; a baby-faced thirtysomething in arrested development into a grizzled, wheelchair-bound vet; and a thoroughly downtrodden street person into an icon of bourgeois manners and dress. Valene’s work, meanwhile, imbues simple objects like a newspaper, a golf club, an ice cream cone, and a crown with powerful symbolism and impact.
The highlight of all these is Marisol’s guardian angel. Resplendent in silver, black, and camo, she opens the play in her “wings of peace,” glorious appendages like the wings of some magnificent pigeon. It is at the end of the first act when she exchanges her wings of peace for wings of war, standing high in the sky and wielding a machine gun, that the play shifts and the stakes are hammered home. Actress Jazzma Pryor speaks in fire and walks in grace, bringing the Angel to “radiant, raw, fulgent” life as she announces the end of this world and the dawn of the world to come.
Promethean Theatre Ensemble has created a scary, overwhelming, intimate, relevant work, and it will not be comfortable for everyone. But then, perhaps the Apocalypse shouldn’t be.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: an excerpt of this play appears in Theatre in Chicago.
West Stage at the Raven Theatre Complex
6157 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60660
Now through Sunday, November 26
Thursdays @ 8:00PM
Fridays @ 8:00PM
Saturdays @ 8:00PM
Sundays @ 3:30PM
No show on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 23)
General Admission $25.00
Senior (65+) $20.00
Pay-what-you-can performances on Thursdays
Online at the Promethean Theatre Ensemble website.
Please note: this performance contains strobe lighting, gunshots, and depictions of realistic violence and attempted sexual violence.
All photos by Tom McGrath.
The author of this review is a personal friend of actress Jamie Bragg, and has a keen professional interest in her work.
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.