By Kate Brandt
The title of today’s play might sound familiar to some Trinity Rep theatergoers, even though this is the first time we have produced this play on the mainstage. Perhaps they might know it from the 1993 Obie Award win for its playwright José Rivera. Or, they might remember that the play was produced by the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program in 2013. That production was directed by Taibi Magar (A Christmas Carol in 2014, The Hunchback of Seville, The Song of Summer, and next season’s The Prince of Providence).
There aren’t many scripts outside of Shakespeare that have been selected by both the MFA program and Trinity Rep. (Middletown by Will Eno is another — produced as part of the 2014-15 Season in the Dowling Theater and also in the Pell Chafee Performance Center by the MFA students in 2013.) So what makes this show so appealing?
For Trinity Rep’s season, the lineup is selected by Curt Columbus as artistic director with input from his team. Shows are selected not just for their individual merit, but also with the whole season in mind. Some of the considerations are thematic: how do the shows speak to each other… what journey will an audience go on throughout the season? Others are more practical — budgeting, casting, technical resources.
So we asked Curt what made him choose Marisol for this season. He replied, “I wanted to program Marisol for a range of reasons. José Rivera is one of the leading writers for the American stage, and Trinity Rep has not produced his work.
The texture and poetry of his language is gorgeous and unique, and the images he produces with his words stay seared in people’s brains. And while it is the 25th anniversary of the premiere of the play, it still has so much to say to contemporary audiences. Marisol is a young woman who lives in a world that is teetering on the brink of disaster, and her journey is one that combines self-discovery with revelations about her place in the grand scheme of things. I believe that audiences will find that her story is more relevant and more resonant today than it has ever been.
Finally, I wanted to program the play because of (director) Brian Mertes’ long association with José. Our audiences know that Brian brings a thrilling, unique perspective to everything he does. He is the perfect interpreter for this work.”
Brown/Trinity Rep MFA productions, in comparison, are chosen very differently. Those plays are selected by the directors. They choose plays that interest them artistically and present challenges that they want to tackle as part of their education. So we asked Taibi to look back at what made her select Marisol for the spring project of her second year in the directing program.
Because of the differences in their objectives, it isn’t surprising that her answer differed from Curt’s. One of the primary reasons she selected the play was because the “stage directions are wildly impossible and therefore a gift to the theater director. Challenges breed ingenuity.”
Though that wasn’t the only reason Taibi chose this play. And this second part of her rationale aligns perfectly with Curt’s. According to Taibi, “I chose Marisol because of the language. Rivera’s text is funny, profound, vivid, and totally enrapturing.” Beautifully-written plays appeal to directors, no matter what their ultimate goal is.
The connection between those two productions runs even deeper. The director of the current production, Brian Mertes, also serves as the Head of Directing for the MFA program. There’s also Mia Ellis, who is playing the angel in today’s production. She was in her final year as an MFA acting student during that 2013 production. She recalls wondering if she would ever have the opportunity to encounter the play again and what she would make of it upon reexamination.
How about you? If you got a chance to see Taibi’s 2013 production, we’d love to hear your thoughts on encountering the play again and how the two experiences compare for you.
Did you know…
Did you know that Brown/Trinity Rep MFA productions have public performances that you can attend? Tickets range from just $8–$15. Performances are held at the Pell Chafee Performance Center, located just around the corner from us. These are incredible opportunities to see the work of up-and-coming actors and directors just before they burst on to the national scene. Taibi Magar, for example, has gone pretty quickly from Brown/Trinity Rep’s MFA program to be an Obie Award winner and nationally sought-after director. And, you might even get the chance to see a play that might then make its way on to the Trinity Rep mainstage.
Though their performances have ended for this season, productions will pick up again next fall.
Check trinityrep.com/shows for productions and schedules as they are announced.