The famed German extreme comedian Friedrich Nietzsche once proclaimed the demise of the Almighty. More unsettling still, after a quick glance back at the abattoir that was the previous century, is the notion that (s)he might actually be alive and well (and that things went exactly as intended). José Rivera's Marisol stalks a middle path, in which God has become demented, his creation falling out of order, and an insurrection of angels is preparing to hasten his end.
The latter nugget of information is transmitted to a young Puerto Rican Bronx-dweller named Marisol (Roneet Aliza Rahamim) during a visit from her guardian angel (Amber Bjork). Marisol's protector informs her that she's pretty much on her own henceforth, due to the war in heaven and all. But it's not as though Marisol is unaware that anything might be afoot: The moon has disappeared from the sky, cows are dispensing salty milk, and in a rapid-fire opening scene she either was, or was not, bludgeoned to death in a subway train by a maniac wielding a golf club.
Yes, you are going to have to check that stubborn need for linear reality at the door, as well as any aversion to spiritual vertigo. What follows over the course of these two acts (directed by Carin Bratlie) evokes a daring imagination space, a weird and spiky realm of the mind that toys with disorder, both internal and external.
Theatre Pro Rata at Gremlin Theatre
through October 18
Marisol goes to work in her Manhattan office the next day, disturbed first by the memory of her angel's visit, then by the spontaneous arrival of yet another violent madman (Grant Henderson is the Cesar Tovar of small-theater actors in this show, playing every male role—all in some way creepily unhinged, when not outright homicidal).
So she agrees to go to the home of co-worker June (Melanie Wehrmacher) to knock out some tasks, although the plan goes awry with the disturbing arrival of June's brother Lenny (Henderson, natch). Lenny, we find out, was the victim of U.S. military medical experiments, which have left him irrevocably damaged and mad (as well as nursing a rigorously unhealthy sexual fixation with Marisol, who he is meeting for the first time; until then, mere mention of her was enough to get him worked up).
June and Lenny banter and bicker like the siblings they are, while Marisol looks on with innocent discomfort (Rahamim lends Marisol a convincing sweetness, though not all the gravity we're looking for). Soon June is throwing Lenny out on the street, although he eventually extracts revenge that involves what looks to be a seven-iron (one suspects that the playwright endured some vivid humiliation on a golf course at some point).
Meanwhile, Marisol's angel looks on while polishing an assault rifle, a portent of the second act, in which the world goes enthusiastically insane. A grotesque burn victim (guess...guess...okay, it's Henderson) introduces himself to Marisol as Elvis Presley, while the avenues are piled with garbage, Nazis are setting the homeless on fire, and even the grid of New York's streets has become baroque and unfathomable. All this, and then we finally get the box score on the whole God vs. Angels conflagration (and an obscure, incomplete indicator of what might come next).
What makes this show so thrilling at times is its invocation of incoherence and chaos while nailing down the little corners on the characters and their actions (however daft or off-putting). Marisol depicts the giddy sense that the outside world has gone mad, while things are more or less all right within our selves (of course, accompanied by the dread fear that we've got it all wrong). Nietzsche could have been premature, then: In this case the creator isn't dead, but stands to be fired on grounds of incompetence. Good luck to the next to take the job.