Marisol by José Rivera is written in the tradition of the Theater of the Absurd, and strong influences can be seen of the works of Ionesco, Beckett, and Genet. As with all Absurdist work, the world of the play is meant to be fractured, poetically representing the world around us, while obeying its own wild logic. Absurdism is usually deployed when events in real life seem so brutal and inconceivable that the only way to look at them rationally is through an absurdist lens.
As many audiences are not accustomed to viewing work in this style, we’re providing some resources that provide some context to more fully appreciate the play. These resources can be reviewed prior to or after viewing the performance.
Artistic Director’s Note about Marisol: https://www.trinityrep.com/to-my-friends-from-curt-marisol/
Trinity Rep’s Study Guide for Marisol: https://www.trinityrep.com/app/uploads/2019/05/marisol-study-guide.pdf
A letter written by José Rivera to the students of USC on the occasion of their 2015 production of the play: https://dramaticarts.usc.edu/jose-rivera/
Excerpts from a talkback with playwright José Rivera after a Luna Stage performance of Marisol in 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrglpYXtzIE
Why Marisol: https://www.trinityrep.com/why-marisol/
Notes from the Pre-Show Prologue for Marisol
José Rivera is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the past 30 years, having written such plays as Marisol, Cloud Tectonics, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (for which he won an Obie award) as well as the screenplay for On the Road and The Motorcycle Diaries (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award). He was originally born in Puerto Rico in 1955, and moved with his family to New York City when he was four. A major influence on his work is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who became his mentor while they were both at the Sundance Institute.
Marisol is about 26 year old Marisol Perez, a smart, successful Puerto Rican woman living in New York (she lives in the Bronx and works in Manhattan). The play begins as Marisol is attacked on the subway by a violent stranger, and then soon after is visited by her guardian angel. Marisol’s angel explains that she can no longer be Marisol’s protector — the angels have joined forces against the old and senile God who is dying and has vowed “to take the rest of the universe with him.” The play then follows Marisol’s adventures through this crumbling, beautiful world.
The world of the play feels very similar to our own, but also heightened and dream-like (or at times nightmarish). Rivera wrote this play in the early 90’s — if anything it feels even more current.
Director Brian Mertes finds it really useful before you see the show to understand that it is okay for your eyes to wander as you watch this piece. Let yourself relax and enter the dreamscape of this present day New York City. People in scenes together may be very far apart, people not in the scene may be on stage in their own world. Give yourself permission to have a different experience than everyone else and piece together your own story.
An Excerpt from a Speech Given by José Rivera about culture and its place in our nation and in performance. This was the keynote address at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 2012
Culture is what we speak.
What we dream.
The almost magical and instinctive symbols we use to communicate those words and dreams.
Culture is a speeding vehicle sucking fossil fuels and it’s the way you greet your child in the morning.
Culture flows around and through us like the salt sea around a whale.
And sometimes that sea is as clean as a baby’s first day of life or as wretched as the aftermath of a BP oil catastrophe.
Culture is in the flash of a nuclear explosion and its invisible even when its right in front of our faces.
Culture is a handshake,
a prison poem,
a habit of thought,
a succession of guitar chords,
a play at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe,
a drum beat,
and what happens after the director yells “action.”
Culture emasculates and enthralls and tells vivid lies and complicates the simple and simplifies the complicated.
Culture teaches and molds our minds and sustains us — and betrays us — from the nursery to the nursing home.
Culture takes decades to change and it changes by the minute.
Culture is in the buttons of our clothes and in the vitamins of our organic food and in the ever-changing, slang-rich dictionary.
Culture is Gilgamesh and GM and mack and cheese and the double-play and Rodrigo y Gabriela and Kirk Douglas and the New York Review of Books and Bugs and Daffy and vast Superbowl half-time shenanigans.
We eat this thing called culture and we sleep in its arms and we shape it with our cries and our passionate questions.
We command it and tame its eccentricities and force it to decorate our museum walls and play us its raunchy ballads and in the dark of movie theatres we put culture in focus and we see, on screens made of silver, our own dreams enacted for us.
We let culture transform our lives and then, five minutes later, we forget all about it and crave the next life-changing cultural experience.
We are all experts in judging culture, yet we are permanent amateurs in the face of the absolute complexity and extravagance of culture.
We are practitioners in culture yet we don’t know what we’re doing half the time and to master its many mysteries will take us all a lifetime.
We who work in culture think we’re elite – that we’re better than nurses and cops and auto-mechanics.
But they too are culture workers because culture effects nutrition and therefore our very health and our sanity.
Culture determines what’s valuable therefore what laws are written to protect privilege and wealth — therefore it determines who goes to prison and who puts them there.
Culture tells us what to drive and what to wear and what to watch and where to buy and how to read and therefore those who fix our cars and deliver our clothes and stock our libraries are engaged in the culture of our time no less than the artists among us.
Now, wait a minute, you’re thinking:
If culture is everything, why are we even talking about it?
If we say culture transforms everyone, all the time, equally, are we really saying anything at all?
Culture, yes, is virtually everything; its in everything we make and consume.
Culture, in its vastness, it’s ubiquity, it’s timelessness, it’s invisibility, it’s brightness, may be, in the long run, very neutral – but we are never neutral about culture.
And we fight over it, fiercely.
Culture is appropriated – like religion and myth – to fight for values.
Cultural warriors on both sides wish to determine what books will be available –
what forms of reproductive freedom will be tolerated (if any),
how much money goes into the fine and highly-evolved arts of military destruction,
what forms of worship are legitimate and which are renegade,
what is pornographic,
and how we censure someone for simple drug use,
or teaching the wrong science in school,
or going to the prom with a same-sex partner,
or believing in the goodness of a black president.
And, more importantly, there isn’t one mono-culture.
There isn’t only one way to express culture.
Or one way we all experience culture.
Or one way that culture transforms us.
There are two basic cultures: one of life and one of death.
The culture of the nuclear flash is not the same culture of the dark movie theatre or the poetry slam.
The words “culture wars” are so nineties.
But the term may have faded but the fight continues.
That’s why it’s so important to contrast what we, who live and breathe and eat this so-called elitist pastime called the culture of life with the dominant cultural paradigm of the moment.
That paradigm is expressed in a cliché: that we are living in a digital world.
In the pure clean symmetrical world of ones and zeros, of on and off, of black and white.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I love computers.
They’re amazing tools and they do actually make some people very happy.
I love my cell phone except when I hate it.
And many have written that this digital age is truly magical.
That we can talk through invisible wires and have a God’s-eye view of the physical world and create the ancient library of Alexandria in a devise the size of a pack of cards.
Yet others – and I’m one of them – believe the magic of the digital age comes at the price,
And we pay this price daily,
and because the price may be greater than the benefits, we may be losing something valuable along the way.
What we lose, I think, is something subtle, mostly invisible and inaudible.
Something like the soft, scratchy noises between notes of a song,
those furtive and fugitive sharps and flats in their distant room tones,
the dirt and lint and grainy imperfections in photography and video,
all that unrecordable, disposable, ambiguous twilight zone beauty:
that’s what we lose.
And those loses define our digital age.
And that’s where we, the lovers of noise and lint and imperfect twilights,
that’s where we find our culture and our art’s ultimate purpose.
We are here to recover this lost magic with the work we do as artists.
Our culture will never be digital.
Because between ones and zeroes are entire worlds.
Between ones and zeroes are life and blood and laughter and death.
Between ones and zeroes are the moon-haunted gypsy lovers of a Lorca ballad,
the drunken farts and belches of Falstaff,
the baby eaters and rapists of a Sarah Kane nightmare,
the evil grins of a Geoffrey Rush clown,
and the running pornographies of the motherfucker in the hat.
That’s truly where our culture – when he take good care of it, when we revere and mock it, when we tame it and succumb to it – lives.
In the fertile, undigitizable, incomprehensible spaces between yes and no.
In the split second – and in the eternity – between the rich darkness of off and the hot light of on.
Our culture will never be as clear as the shiny surface of an iPad.
It will never be without its imperfect noises and colors that defy classification.
Our culture will always honor the abyss and terror and chaos and hilarity lurking and breeding between the ones and zeros of the dominant paradigm.
It will always manage to thrill us with its paradoxes and low-rent esthetics.
It will fascinate by being unhip and retro and smelly and messy and incapable of turning a profit.
It will always be the dangerous anachronism that looks backwards into our traditions and forward into the future and down, deep down, to the peculiar and gorgeous dramas of the human heart.
We are vinyl.
We are handwritten love notes on yellow paper.
We are one-cent stamps and black and white television and Fenway Park.
We are town criers and milkmen.
“Give me an empty space and I will make an act of theatre,” said Peter Brook, though he could have been talking about all our cultural forms.
And sometimes a bit of space is all we, as cultural warriors and artists, ask for.
Space to breathe and sing and contemplate.
Space to pretend and rediscover old truths.
Space for journeys, interior and exterior.
Space to create community.
Space to slow it all down,
to pause wisely between words,
to see another human being actually think in front of us,
actually form ideas that are reflected in the gestures of the actor’s face,
before the thoughts come out of his or her mouth.
Space to remember that our first cultural gestures were religious in content and form.
Space to be sexy and silly and clownish and audacious and bawdy.
Space to build a kingdom or a gulag or a hotel room or the backseat of a car.
Space enough to let language off its leash to transfix us with its endlessly playful tricks.
Space for the grotesque, the unpleasant, the monsters within each of us.
All I ask as an artist is this: give me space for my imagination and the time to construct a world there.
And I ask for significance.
I ask for urgency.
I ask that our work mean something.
That our stories change things.
That our culture speak with greater force and eloquence than that big corporate culture of ones and zeros and yes and no and on and off.
How? What do we focus on?
Where do we find our urgency?
I say it’s everywhere.
That we live in a golden age of possibilities for culture and story-telling and music-making and dancing.
There are stories to tell about the unions of Wisconsin,
the street fighters of Bahrain and Lybia,
the embargoed-to-death people of Cuba,
the atrocities of Gaza,
the epidemic of sexual violence on women and girls on our native reservations,
the collapse of beehives in North America and vultures in India,
the worldwide extinctions of indigenous languages –3000 languages will die in the next 200 years,
the frightening monopolies of money and power,
the fierce growth of the prison-industrial complex in this country,
the war crimes of recent presidents and Secretaries of Defense,
the trafficking in human beings in this era in which more people are in slavery than in any other time in history.
And if all that is too daunting, too rapidly-changing, too out-of-focus, then you can focus your cultural lens on what’s inside you.
To paint and dance about your specific demons and ghosts.
To understand the trauma you suffered or that guy who broke your heart last year or that creeping alienation you seem to feel every day you wake up to a world that seems perpetually out of control.
Or you write to celebrate the simple beautiful fact that you’re still breathing.
The joy you feel in honest friendships,
in the taste of good food,
the sting of weather on your face,
the discovery of first true love,
your relationship to whatever you consider transcendent and unknowable and sublime.
You practice art to preserve your sanity and to understand, on some pre-verbal level, your own contradictions:
Why do you consider yourself good when you keep doing stupid things?
Why do you push away people who love you?
Why do you — such a peaceful person — have such violent dreams?
Why is the future so terrifying and why can’t you stop laughing at it?
What is it in your family’s DNA that thrills and scares you the most?
What is your definition of love?
What makes you laugh?
Yes, the ability to travel into the human experience at the same time that you travel outward to encompass history and ecology and the many sciences of life and death,
that’s the gift that our culture of life gives all its artists.
Permission to explore our communal mysteries and our individual camps of horror and laughter.
Permission to know the hidden cities of human behavior and the ability to draft beautiful atlases to those cities so others may follow you.
Permission to play with language and make such exquisite sounds with your words that you can intoxicate a stone.
And finally — permission to entertain and enthrall and confound and challenge and heal and provoke and tickle a room full of strangers – some of whom will take your words, or your performance, or your colors, or your gestures to their graves.
Culture transforms us for the better,
when it asks us to contemplate truths that are not easy, bite-sized bundles.
When it asks us to slow down and think.
When it demands that every answer be followed by twenty more questions.
When it asks us to hear the noise between the sharps and flats and see the impurities between the frames.
When we see devils in our angels of our culture and halos over the heads of our criminals.
When we turn language inside-out and shake old meanings out of our words like we shake sand from our shoes.
In closing I want to say this one last thing:
I don’t know where our culture of life is going next.
I don’t even know if it’s going to survive.
But I do thank my lucky stars that I’m a fighter in its ranks,
that I have the support and love of fellow artists,
that in rooms like these, and countless other gatherings, that the future of our culture of life looks fierce and hopeful indeed.