José Rivera shares about his play being produced at USC

'Marisol' playwright reached out to students involved in the production


Photo by Craig Schwartz

Before the curtain rose on the School of Dramatic Arts’ recent production of Marisol, the students involved in the production were treated to a letter from the play’s noted playwright, José Rivera. [posted with permission]

Dear Cast, Crew, Designers, and Director of Marisol,

Tony Kushner was once asked to define fame. He said it was having your plays produced in colleges and universities. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Very few thing make me happier than knowing that my plays are living in the context of university settings, where young artists are exposed to some of the best our culture has to offer, and the collision of that culture with young, receptive, eager, hungry minds can cause lives to change, goals to crystallize, destinies to be launched. I’m so happy knowing this could happen to you and that it could happen because you took on my play, my words, my ideas.

Marisol was written in despair. I was living in a city that seemed to be falling apart. When June says “Visigoths are climbing the city walls” that was literally how I felt. That golf club was literally swung at my head one night on the subway. That ice cream cone was literally jammed into my face. I felt displaced in my own home, seeking emotional rescue – “protection” as Marisol herself says.

Since that time my city (I live in New York now, after having lived in Los Angeles, another apocalyptic city, for 20 years) has greatly changed and that sense of anarchy and lack of protection has largely faded, replaced, sadly, with some sterility and contentment. (Where is that balance? Between the excitement of chaos and the assurance of physical safety? I’m still looking … )

The world has changed enormously since I wrote the first draft of Marisol in 1989. (Back then the idea of metal detectors in all the buildings in Brooklyn seemed so radical – little did I know!) But in every important way, the world hasn’t changed at all. I think of the people in Paris who are now looking for their lost and elusive “protection.” I think of suffering Syria, where millions of innocent people must feel that the war in heaven in raining napalm on them every day. I think of the slums, so sorrowful and permanent, in Latin America and Detroit.

Marisol was extremely popular in the early 1990s; it was being done everywhere. But it kind of disappeared in the late 1990s and I was feeling that perhaps the play had become too dated and irrelevant and had outlived its usefulness as a cultural indicator and warning. Then came 9-11. And since that devastation, the play has been more popular than ever. A recent college production I saw had “Occupy Wall Street” spray-painted on the set. So, as times change, I’m lucky to have written a strange, dark play that continues to resonate.

Which brings me back to you. You are inhabiting the play now. It belongs to you. You are taking it from the one-dimensional page to the four-dimensional emotional and spiritual experience your lucky audience will receive. (Not all audiences feel so lucky, though. At a recent production of the play in the Bronx, I was in the lobby during intermission, minding my own business, when an irate audience member marched up to me and said, “I can’t believe I missed The Big Bang Theory for this shit!” and stormed out of the theatre. Somehow that really made my night.) It’s your turn to make this play relevant, to have it sing through your bodies and minds.

I wish I could be there with you to receive that experience too. But, in lieu of that, please accept this verbal embrace and this humble writer’s unending gratitude.

Yours sincerely,