MU Theatre Department’s “Marisol” opens after year-long delay

MU Theatre department’s latest production hopes to appeal to those unsure what to make of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Rebecca Allen

In the year that has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many students found themselves feeling lost and confused in a strange new world that closely resembles the one they once knew, with subtle differences. In an attempt to express that feeling through art, the theatre department is putting on a play with a similar story.

The department’s production of “Marisol” opened on Thursday, April 15 to a live-streamed audience online, the production’s only live performance. A filmed version of the production will also be available to stream from April 16-23.

The play was written by Puerto Rican-American playwright José Rivera, the first Puerto Rican screenwriter to be nominated for an Academy Award. It first premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1992.

The story revolves around Marisol Perez, who Dramatists Play Service, Inc. describes as“a young Latino woman,” and “a copy editor for a Manhattan publisher.” When angels revolt to prevent a dying God from destroying the universe, life for Perez and the rest of the world is turned upside down. Marisol struggles to survive and make sense of her new reality.

Xiomara Cornejo, a graduate instructor of Stage Makeup, Introduction to Performance Studies and Performance of Literature within the department, is the show’s director. She said she hopes the audience will be able to relate to Marisol’s conflict.

“I am interested to know what folks will consider is the meaning of José Rivera's play,” Cornejo said in an email. “It is a Shero’s [female hero] journey through an apocalyptic world, not any different from the world we live in today, especially since COVID-19. Marisol digs deep within herself, humanity and her spiritual faith and pushes through the darkness. We root for Marisol to survive the chaos because, in some ways, we have all been in her shoes.”

“Marisol” also touches on other issues facing society, and Cornejo said she hopes the audience can address their feelings about those topics through this show.

“This play deals with serious issues like environmental catastrophes, violence against women and white supremacy,” Cornejo said. “I wish that folks will also lean into Rivera's humor, lyricism and musicality, and leave with a sense of hope and faith in humanity. It is the only way we can ever survive our own apocalypse.”

MU’s production faced its own struggle to survive and persevere, as the show premiered almost a year after it was initially scheduled. The show was cancelled in March 2020 following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was rescheduled for the following spring. With the many adjustments to COVID-19 life, the theatre department felt the show was more relevant than ever. There were cast check-ins during September and November 2020 before rehearsal finally restarted with a slightly different cast in mid-February.

The obstacles didn’t stop there, as the production then had to face the challenges of putting on a theatrical production in a COVID-19 world. They ultimately decided to perform one live show to a live-streamed audience, with a filmed version streaming for the rest of the run. Despite having experience as a director, designer, dramaturg, visual artist and musician, this was new terrain for Cornejo.

“I have never filmed a production in such a manner, but I have several filmmakers in my family, my younger brother in particular, that I’ve learned from,” Cornejo said.

Cornejo looked to filmed ballets for guidance and inspiration when filming their production. She also collaborated with the production’s Video Director Andre Steward, an MU Digital Storytelling and Theatre Performance graduate, on storyboards, shooting and editing. (Though Steward is credited as Video Director, Cornejo directed both the play and the film. He was given this title because he was the film specialist of the production.)

“Our goal was to maintain the theatrical aesthetic as much as possible while still making room for cinematic elements that worked in our favor,” Cornejo said. “Our goal with the film, other than capturing up close the phenomenal designs and acting, was to make sure audiences felt as if they were in the front row of the theatre.”

Theatre Performance senior Dajah Garrett plays the titular role of Marisol. Despite having minimal screen acting experience, Garrett said she appreciated the new challenge as it prepared her for the career she plans to pursue.

“I do love acting on stage, but when I graduate, something that I want to focus on is acting for the camera,” Garrett said. “I think I can speak for all of the cast members when I say it was a new challenge for all of us. I think it definitely helped me grow as an actor.”

Ayanna Taylor, a sophomore double majoring in Theatre Performance and Organizational Communication and minoring in Musical Theatre, plays Marisol’s guardian angel. Taylor was able to relate the conflicts of both her character and the show to her personal life.

“I enjoyed being in this show because I got to play a role that I could connect to on a personal level and have grown as a person because of it,” Taylor said. “This show has taught me how to never take things for granted, especially finally being able to do live theatre. I am truly honored.”

Theatre Performance senior Jacob Blank plays Lenny, one of the many troubled characters of the show. Despite the dark themes and concepts “Marisol” touches on, Blank said he hopes the audience will walk away with a sense of hope, a sentiment shared by others involved in the production.

“There’s a lot of darkness in the show, there’s no denying that, but I wouldn’t say that it’s an inherently dark show,” Blank said. “Ultimately, it’s about optimism, the belief that things can and will get better, if everyone would step up and do their part.”

The MU Theatre Department’s production of “Marisol” runs through April 23, with the filmed version of the show broadcast on the Mizzou Theatre YouTube page every night at 7 p.m. A link to the page will be provided with the purchase of a ticket. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the link below.

https://theatre.missouri.edu/marisol-0

Edited by Shannon Worley | sworley@themaneater.com

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