The world is going to hell in a handcart and heaven won’t help us. That’s the cheerful premise of José Rivera’s 1993 Obie Award-winning “Marisol,” currently receiving a dark and visceral production by Theatre Coup d’Etat.
The play opens and closes with a funeral. Between those bookends, “Marisol” draws the audience into a surreal apocalyptic landscape, littered with the detritus of a collapsing society. Plastic bags of garbage litter the playing space (the chapel of the SpringHouse Ministry Center). Graffiti sprawls across the walls, espousing sentiments like “Make Weimar Great Again,” “Equal Rights 4 Whites” and “Build the Wall.”
Marisol (Sabrina Diehl) is a young Puerto Rican career woman navigating this dangerous environment as best she can, when her guardian angel (Dana Lee Thompson) arrives to give her a warning: God isn’t dead, but he’s dying and demented, and he intends to take the world down with him. Magnificently commanding if a bit bedraggled, Thompson tells Marisol she can no longer protect her because she’s trading her wings for weapons to lead an angelic army against God.
A small ensemble of actors take on the roles of a parade of desperate and dangerously unpredictable characters Marisol encounters as she begins a perilous search for safety. Her friend June (Kelly Nelson in a tense and forceful performance) offers an illusion of sanctuary before she ends up a victim herself, attacked by her semi-psychotic brother Lenny (Craig James Hostetler).
AnaSofía Villanueva’s Woman in Furs valiantly attempts to maintain her dignity as she dodges police who are trying to jail her for having poor credit. Nikhil Pandey offers a touching and occasionally comic performance as a homeless man terrorized by roaming gangs of neo-Nazis, while Pedro Juan Fonseca lends chilling menace as a street thug. Hostetler’s Lenny rides a jittery roller-coaster of aggression and manipulation as he pursues his obsession with Marisol.
It’s unfortunate that Ricardo Vázquez’s direction doesn’t always take full advantage of the bleakly compelling characters and images this production conjures. A very deliberate pace, marked by long silences and slowly dawning realizations, undercuts the play’s urgency, while Diehl’s Marisol seems almost a bystander to the madness unfolding around her. It’s only in the second act that she trades her passive role for a more forthright stance, commanding the stage as she rallies her fellow survivors to action.
The most distinctive element of this production, however, is the singular way in which it demonstrates that while a quarter-century may have lapsed since Rivera wrote “Marisol,” this work has only become more prescient, not less.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities critic.