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Hell of a Noel 

Cleveland Public Theatre gives us the nightmare before Christmas.

Tina Guster (left) with Ebani Edwards.
  • Tina Guster (left) with Ebani Edwards.
Marisol, an incoherent horror show by Jose Rivera, is enveloping Cleveland Public Theatre like a great noxious fart. This satanic flea circus is laboring under the delusion that it is Christmas entertainment. It is a work solely for the palates of misanthropes, sadists, and connoisseurs of Japanese animation. For anyone else, it has the potential of rendering the yuletide season about as appealing as a rancid fruitcake.

To analyze Rivera's two hours of relentless pounding is first cousin to chronicling a hangover. First, those post-binge little green snakes and pink elephants must be trapped and put in a specimen jar. At a post-theater recovery session, I and my dazed theater companion wondered if we had been suddenly afflicted with premature senility, since we both had to strain like mediums to call up the affronts to which we had just been subjected.

We have dim memories of an angel hoyden as fiercely tempered as Caligula, as funky as a Motown dancer, and as far from the majesty of Botticelli and the folksy warmth of Frank Capra as Dom Perignon from Kool-Aid.

As in movies like When Worlds Collide and Planet of the Apes, we once again face the Apocalypse. In a Brooklyn as bombed-out as Berlin after the blitz, on eerie, desolate streets, vendors looking like lepers from Ben-Hur peddle zip-lock bags full of charmed chicken blood. Nazi skinheads hunt for little old ladies to terrorize. A frantic consumer in a torn fur coat flees from furies unleashed by MasterCard.

Marisol (Tina Guster), a smoldering Puerto Rican professional woman and yuppie wannabe, has been having an annoying day. Every male psycho in Brooklyn who hasn't succumbed to a mysterious plague has been trying to pulverize, rape, or humiliate her. Fortunately, she has a guardian angel to turn her would-be torturers into dust.

Every five minutes or so, someone is getting stabbed, beaten, or mutilated. Offstage somewhere, we hear of apocalyptic warfare. Every so often there is an attack on bourgeois values ("I'm middle-class: This can't be happening to me."). Marisol, the Alice-in-Wonderland protagonist, who may or may not be dead, has encounters on the streets with crack fiends, the homeless, and desperados. All this builds up to a man giving birth to a baby -- a stillborn Messiah (well, anything can happen in New York). Then, out of nowhere appears what we assume to be a transcendent conclusion, with blaring Christmas music, ethereal choral voices, and a passionate paean to the new millennium, with our heroine arising as a phoenix out of the rubble.

By this time, the audience has gradually configured itself into a gigantic question mark. The only line of this enigmatic gargoyle of a show that it understands is: "How do I get out of this fucking mess?"

Director/witch doctor Jairo Cuesta casts an insidious spell on his five-member cast, causing them to rant and gyrate like participants in some ancient Mayan ritual, with the sacrifice being the spectator's ultimate happiness and well-being. Only Guster, as the eponymous Marisol, calling up the Earth Mother intensity and magnetism of a Maria Callas diva, is able to throw off his curse.

Trying to fathom the what, why, and how of this theatrical fiasco, we checked three sources. Paging through The Drama Dictionary, we came upon the "what": "Expressionist drama -- anguished individual isolated in crying out, like the figure in Edvard Munch's "The Scream.'"

For the "why," we turn to producer Randy Rollison's program notes: "Artistic Director James Levin said he wanted to do Jose Rivera's Marisol in the November/December slot . . . Oh, God."

For the "how," we consulted the American Heritage Dictionary, going to the D's for "dismal" ("causing gloom or depression").

Though drama critics are notorious for not paying for tickets, a certain trapped playgoer would have willingly shelled out 50 bucks to instead be watching Disney's Christmas Carol on Ice, with a skating Scrooge McDuck as Marley's ghost, singing, "I wear the chain I forged in life!" (So do we.)

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More by Keith A. Joseph

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