A different kind of apocalypse

What if everything is going to hell in a handcart not because humanity is disobeying God, but because God is old and tired and falling down on the job of running the universe?

What if you set such a vision in a landscape somewhere between Eugene Ionesco and Jorge Luis Borges with little nods at John Milton and Tony Kushner?

Well, you'd have something that looks a lot like "Marisol," Jose Rivera's bleakly cheeky play about a different kind of apocalypse that's playing at Southern Oregon University's Center Square Theatre Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 8-11.

The central character, young, Bronx-bred Marisol (Leah Sanginiti), called by a friend "Miss Puerto Rican Yuppie Princess of the Universe," is menaced in the opening scene by a golf club-wielding psycho on the subway (Kevin Young). These are the good times — things are still more or less normal — but it's all downhill from there.

Dingy, dimly lit windows, many of them broken out, and ratty, graffiti-scarred doors give director Jackie Apodaca's dystopian vision an industrial, urban vibe. Catwalks high above the stage accommodate a black-clad angel who watches the chaos.

Home in the Bronx, Marisol is startled by the appearance of an angel and thinks for a moment she must be dead or, in one of the play's few flashes of humor, pregnant with God's child. But no. The angel (Alyssa Rhoney) has come to say she's been looking after Marisol her whole life.

That's the good news. Now the bad: The angel will no longer be playing guardian because she's joining a heavenly rebellion against God, whose senility is ruining everything. The notion of such a rebellion goes back through Milton to Genesis, of course, and this time out, God's overthrow and death will renew vigor in the universe, the angel says. "All hell's going to break loose," she promises.

Never doubt an angel who goes to the trouble of appearing to you to deliver a message.

A man (Corey Porter) soon shoves an ice cream cone in Marisol's face. Another, Lenny (Danny Walker in a strong performance), is by turns her friend and foe. People who go over their credit card limits are being tortured in some enormous, Kafka-esque complex. Skinhead Nazis are dousing the homeless in gasoline and torching them.

The moon has left its orbit, the sun now rises in the north, and everything Marisol grew up with is gone.

If God has lost it, or is busy fighting the rebellious angels, all this is in accordance with Hermetic principles, which hold that as above, so below. Chaos and rebellion in heaven, hell on Earth.

If "Marisol" were a big-budget, high-concept movie, the plot would twist and turn and the stakes would ratchet up to a climactic payoff (there would also be demons, which Rivera doesn't need). Rivera, however, doesn't seem to know what to do with this fallen, provocative world he's created.

Before it's over we will see Marisol's sympathetic gal pal June (Grace Wolcott) turn into a gas can-toting Nazi, a man seeking his lost skin and a pregnant man give birth on stage (it's the delivery scene, and you are there). What we will not see is any kind of redemption or dramatic payoff. All of it doesn't quite go anywhere.

What you get instead of payoff is atmosphere and language. Rivera mixes street language with flights of poetic fantasy, including an amazing monologue by Marisol. I dare you to see "Marisol" and not think of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" from a generation earlier.

Roughly contemporary with "Angels in America" and "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Marisol" is a thing of visionary madness and longing and rage, and this production renders it energetically. It doesn't pretend to have any answers, but the questions are good.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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