THEATRE : More angels from America

Marisol Traverse, Edinburgh
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The Independent Culture
Having narrowly escaped being bludgeoned to death on the subway by someone flaky with a golf club, Puerto Rican Marisol Perez returns to her noisy apartment in the Bronx and tries to sleep, only to be visited by her guardian angel in combat fatigues. "The universal body is sick," the angel tells Marisol. She's right. Jos Rivera's prize-winning 1992 play Marisol, on its first showing in Europe, is littered with symptoms of cosmic malaise.

In a quirky style that mixes a mundane reality with something quite like theatrical magical realism, Rivera sentences his central character to a contemporary urban nightmare with mythi-apocalyptic trappings. It all promises more than it ever delivers. Marisol's guardian angel has to abandon her earthly charge for the higher mission of leading a celestial revolution against a "dying, senile God". In search of security, Marisol (Buki Armstrong) tries to move in with her workmate June (Pauline Knowles) in Brooklyn only to discover that June's brother Lenny (James Kennedy) is as sick as the universe and psychotically obsessed with her.

Desperate to escape, Marisol takes to New York's mean streets where neo- Nazis torch the homeless, and the bourgeoisie are rounded up into a federal torture centre to be punished for exceeding their Mastercard limits. In one unsettling encounter after another with the luckless inhabitants of Rivera's underworld, Marisol discovers that the angels have been doing the rounds of everyone's dreams.

Rivera's angels are very clear metaphors for a nascent, liberal revolution - psychic, emotional and spiritual. Their appearance on stage in pre-Clinton America may account for Marisol's rapturous reception three years ago. But in the colder light of 1995, Marisol feels very much less than the sum of its colourful parts. Capra, Wenders and Terry Gilliam (in The Fisher King) have all ploughed a similar furrow in the past, but with greater coherence and urgency.

Rivera's introduction to the play, printed in the programme, reads like the sleeve notes of a concept rock album, but the news stories and personal reminiscences he cites have not been sufficiently worked through and integrated into this story, so that they stand out from the action in theatrical quotation marks.

Philip Howard's cast make admirably plausible New Yorkers, particularly Pauline Knowles as the frustrated June. But Kenny MacLellan's cavernous design does them no favours, with its grey empty spaces which defuse the claustrophobia of the first half, while the ponderous pace of Howard's direction shows up the play's conceptual and structural flaws. The idiom of Rivera's work is imbued with a post-Aquarian whimsicality and sentimentality - occasionally endearing but mostly infuriating. Marisol's celestial revolution is perhaps long overdue, but theindulgent weirdnesses with which Rivera chooses to predict it feel more like an evasion of the present than a coherent view of the future.

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