Playwright José Rivera's Marisol takes place in an alternate New York City besieged by strange, otherworldly threats. Cows are producing salty milk, an unspecified plague has run amok and the moon has literally fled Earth to hang out with Saturn.
It's all the result of an impending battle between God and his angels, who have risen up against their reportedly senile boss.
Written in 1992 and brought to blazing life by Portland Actors Conservatory, Marisol is a possibly psychotic, possibly ingenious play. It's so bizarre that it bases a pivotal plot twist on a woman who becomes homicidal after she misses a performance of Les Misérables.
If you need to make sense of it all, Marisol will leave you unfulfilled. But if you're willing to let the strangeness overwhelm you, Rivera and PAC have created an apocalyptic and oddly uproarious world that's at once tragic, goofy and scarily real.
Caught in the madness is Marisol (Yolanda Porter), a young Puerto Rican woman who works in publishing. Early in the play, she's visited by a leather-jacket-wearing angel (Bianca Murillo) who announces the coming battle with God, which will apparently end humanity's suffering. Instead of joining the holy war, idealistic Marisol decides to search for her missing friend June (Trishelle Love), who has a serious head injury, and her brother Lenny (Alex Albrecht), who, in defiance of modern science and male anatomy, becomes pregnant.
Marisol is so peculiar that it's tempting to simply surrender to the wondrously vivid emotional, aural and visual sensations conjured up by director Victor Mack and his extraordinary cast and crew. It's heart wrenching when June expels Lenny into the unforgiving streets, flinch inducing when the angels unleash a piercing barrage of gunfire offstage and a lovely when snowflakes fall on Marisol's dark hair.
But if you hunt for meaning amidst those stirring moments, you will find it. Marisol is ultimately an epic tale of people rising up against forces that, to use Marisol's chilling phrase, have amputated their cultural identities.
Yet the play's outrage is tempered by the deliberate silliness of its more melodramatic scenes—including one where Lenny gives birth—and the garish matching sets of red lipstick and bobbed wigs that most of the characters wear.
In a way, Marisol's humor is a critique of self important dystopian myths. Yet it would be reductive to say that that's the point of the play. The power of Marisol lies in its refusal to conform to any particular interpretation and its ability to constantly reinvent itself.
By the time it's over, even the most absurd moments in Marisol feel so real that after you leave the theater, it's tempting to glance up in the sky and make sure the moon is still there—just in case.
SEE IT: Marisol plays at the Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., pac.edu. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2:00 pm Sunday through Dec. 17. $20.