The sign is the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing I see before I sleep. Bland bold letters on a background of bloody maroon, negating my future, telling me this is the best it will ever get, assuring me that this is really an English country estate and not the epitome of everything faceless and inhuman in architecture. This Escherian labyrinth of concrete angles and rotting wood, enlivened only by the occasional hippie tapestry, each apartment an inversion of another, all disintegrating in the drizzle and surmounted by a pair of drifting, deflated balloons, is my castle and my tomb. LIVING IS FUN (but only) AT WIMBLEDON.
Spread across a piece of clear plastic curtain at the outset of the Reed College Theatre’s production of Jose Rivera’s Marisol, directed by Catherine M’ing Tien Duffly, is the following graffiti: “When I drop my wings, all hell’s going to break loose and soon you’re not going to recognize the world - so get yourself some power Marisol, whatever you do.” As the dark, ominous, bass-heavy music that makes up much of Peter Ksander’s sound design echoes through the blackbox theatre we hear the familiar sound of a spray paint bottle clicking as an angel (India Hamilton) implores the audience to “WAKE UP!” The audience is quickly immersed in Rivera’s dark dreamworld, rendered in all its perverse glory by the stage designers, as the Marisol (Aziza Afzal), a young Puerto Rican woman, narrowly escapes an assault from a man with a golf club (Kevin Snyder) in a shaking and flickering subway into the snowy streets of her home, the Bronx. We learn her guardian angel, the one from the prelude scene, was the one who stopped the man and many others through Marisol’s life as she navigates the dangerous Apocalyptic New York streets. She is leaving Marisol now, going to make war against an aging and senile God whom she blames for causing the environmental catastrophes, economic declines, and widespread war the play takes as its background. Hamilton’s performance is at its best in some of the more touching moments between her character and Marisol. While some of her scheming does not seem to be at the level of anger requisite for war on God, she always brings through the misgivings we should have about even higher order spiritual powers in Rivera’s New York. Marisol’s quest to wake up and see the world for what it really is, is made more difficult by the strangeness of that world and the widespread distrust and paranoia of the people who inhabit it. Not to mention, perhaps worst of all, coffee has gone extinct.
I’ll admit it, I showed up late to the show. I had been told a dancer was performing, but as soon as I entered I knew Ralph Lemon would not be dancing that night.
Projected on the screen in the Performance Lab was a video, muted, of a black man sobbing. The audience sat in silence and watched while Lemon watched as well. Seated beside a small table near the right side of the room, Lemon was illuminated by a desktop lamp, as were his chair and his papers. Other than that bulb and the crying man, the room was dark.