Rough Road to Rapture 

Jose Rivera's Apocalypse-themed play Marisol gets an airing at SIU-Edwardsville

It seems that everyone has a hard time describing Jose Rivera's singular play Marisol. It has been called an example of Latin American "magic realism" brought to the stage; a treatment of the Christian Apocalypse; a look at urban misery, violence and apathy; and a poetic and nonlinear piece of storytelling.

All of these descriptions are correct, but what none of them does is accurately express the transformative power this work possesses. Visitors to the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville student production of Marisol will find that it is the best-written piece of theater they have seen in a long time.

Marisol takes on the whole enchilada: the idea that we members of the human family ultimately don't give a shit about anyone but ourselves and that our planet, losing species and vegetation, is riding the hot rails to hell.

Playwright Rivera wants to reverse this descent to doom, and he wants to do it now. He gives us Marisol Perez, a young Puerto Rican living in Brooklyn who takes a surreal journey through another world -- or is it our own? -- where every stranger poses a threat, the evil turn to salt, MasterCard tortures credit-card debtors and angels fed up with earthly tragedy declare war on a complacent God.

This complex work is helmed by veteran HotHouse Theatre director William Grivna. "We had to spend some time with the cast talking about the nonreality of the piece," he says. "It's some kind of dream or strange disembodied experience."

Through its nebulous unfolding, Marisol rarely misfires. It really reaches for some abstract and heavy notions, and, with a few exceptions (such as the ending), it gets there while avoiding moments of pretentiousness. It could have very easily not worked, but it does.

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