Cal Poly’s theatre and dance department will be presenting an original stage production of acclaimed Latino dramatist José Rivera’s dark and surreal play “Marisol.”
The play is generally understood as an outlandish reflection of contemporary society and current events.
“Most people are so consumed by their own lives, it is difficult to acknowledge all the external problems in the world today,” said advertisement manager and theater freshman, Yanelly De La Rosa. “One of the big messages we are discovering in this play is the theme of waking up. People can either sit back and watch things happen, or wake up to the world and do something about it.”
Set in a dark and cold New York City, this near-apocalyptic world is a fantastical place where apples have gone extinct, men give birth, flesh disintegrates and the color blue has ceased to exist. The world is presented through the life of Marisol Perez, a Puerto-Rican publishing assistant in her mid-20s, who finds herself abandoned by her streetwise guardian angel, who has left to wage a war against a senile God.
The war in heaven spills over into the apocalyptic wasteland of New York City, where the moon has not been seen in months. With Marisol’s world flipped upside down, the play follows her nightmare journey into the war zone as she searches for peace, safety, sanity and hope in a world gone awry, De La Rosa said.
Though five of the play’s six roles will be played by theater majors, the lead role of Marisol will be played by kinesiology senior, Anna Acuna.
“I was definitely shocked when I found out I got the role, because I was auditioning against some very experienced theater majors,” Acuna said. “It was one of those ‘Pinch me, am I awake?’ moments.”
Acuna said the last role she played was Tiny Tim in a fifth-grade performance of “A Christmas Carol.” Though she has always loved theater, upon entering Cal Poly she had to choose between drama and sports, and she chose sports.
Four years into the kinesiology program, one of Cal Poly’s biggest theater productions sparked Acuna’s interest, and she decided it was now or never. She planned to audition for either the role of the angel or Marisol, but had to choose one.
“This was my one chance,” Acuna said. “I had to go big or go home.”
Acuna and the rest of the cast have been rehearsing for “Marisol” for more than 25 hours a week since the start of spring quarter. They have been diving deep into research on current topics such as environmental, political and financial issues. They also looked into New York City itself, apocalyptic literature and concepts as well as a variety of other cultures and ideals to adequately prepare for their roles. The production has also employed the various talents of nearly 40 other Cal Poly students from across the university.
The actors and actresses in the play will stick to Jose Rivera’s screenplay, but the originality will be manifested in the cast’s interpretation of the characters as they develop their roles with director Virginia Anderson. Anderson joined the department faculty in fall of 2009, and “Marisol” will be her premiere production at Cal Poly.
“Anderson is very innovative,” De La Rosa said. “She has been really working hard with the cast to get them to know their characters and discover their own interpretation.”
Another key role in the play is Marisol’s friend June, who will be played by theater sophomore, Jaide Whitman. June is very ambiguous, yet representative of Marisol’s last glimpse of hope. Whitman said her character is defined by being undefined.
The role of June’s brother Lenny was landed by theater sophomore, Ryan Austin. Austin said his character is very committed to his ideals, and his visions of fixing the world’s problems.
“Lenny’s character seems to resound the play’s main theme and demands that people wake up to the injustices happening in the world around them,” said Austin.
The character of the angel, played by theater sophomore Ellen Jones, also resounds this theme, yet is more focused on the “waking up of people to the injustices of the divine realm,” Austin said.
The two remaining members of the cast are theater sophomore, Kyle McCurdy and theater freshman, Katie Matten.
Set designer and theater and dance department chair Tim Dugan has created a collage of a disintegrating New York City. Faculty member Thomas John Bernard’s costumes contribute to the complacency, whimsy and urgency that compromise the journey of Marisol. Student designers, Thomas Schneider on lights and Eric Toussaint on sound, will contribute to the world of the play through rich, kaleidoscopic evolution.
“Cal Poly’s six showings of Jose Rivera’s dark and surreal comedy are destined to challenge the mind of the audience in a way most plays do not,” De La Rosa said.
The performances begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and repeat on the 20 through the 22 the following weekend.
“Marisol is not just a play to entertain,” Austin said, “but to teach; to give a dose of medicine.”
Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for Cal Poly faculty and students.