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Kenan Theatre Company's "Marisol" explores disorder, reckoning virtually


The Kenan Theatre Company rehearses José Rivera's “Marisol” over Zoom. The show will be broadcasted via Skype on September 4 and 5. Photo courtesy of Kenan Theater Company. 

The entertainment industry looks very different during a pandemic, but the Kenan Theatre Company is taking it in stride with a virtual script reading of José Rivera's “Marisol” on Sept. 4 and 5. 

The two-act play, directed by Jacqueline E. Lawton, an assistant professor in the Department of Dramatic Art, will be the first in a series of virtual script readings by KTC’s cast and crew. The show will be broadcasted via Skype.

It features the experiences of 26-year-old Marisol Perez, played by UNC student Katia Carmichael, in a New York cityscape. The show starts out in a typical metropolitan world, but things take a turn for the worse when Marisol’s guardian angel, played by UNC student Aubree Dixon, is called into a heavenly battle against a God that has given up. 

What Lawton calls a “spiritual apocalypse” occurs when the war encroaches on New York City and reduces it to a dystopian wasteland. The juxtaposition of 'normal' versus disorder in “Marisol” sheds light on the current situation in the U.S.  

"Marisol is way more relevant than we even imagined when we first decided to choose it,” Lawton said. “The plague of the '90s was HIV/AIDS and now we’re looking at the coronavirus being the plague.” 

She said she believes today’s pandemic culture will be what makes “Marisol” relatable to its audience. The cast is putting a contemporary spin on the show, as it is being broadcasted from their individual homes.     

The country is also in the midst of what Lawton calls an “ongoing racial reckoning,” with protests gaining both attention and intensity by the day. Lawton points out that theater is no stranger to racial disparities, and she says the show also brings attention to U.S. problems of homelessness, joblessness and a tanking economy.

“I hope that on the other side of what I’m calling ‘the great pause,’ that our theaters start to look more like the people in the communities in which they are built,” Lawton said. “I hope they are more diverse, more equitable and that we’re hearing more stories...and not hearing from one singular voice like we have been for so long.” 

“Marisol,” penned by a Puerto Rican playwright, highlights this issue of racial inequality within the entertainment industry by having a lead meant for a person of color. Carmichael is excited to take part in a performance with a Latina lead, as that is not often an option for her as an actress. 

“It’s not something I usually get to experience, or try,” Carmichael said. “Having acted for so long and this only being my second Latina role is really exciting for me.”   

“Marisol” is unlike anything KTC has done before — which has proven to have both positive and negative outcomes. Both Lawton and Carmichael say that time and money are crucial aspects of a production, and the virtual aspect has lessened the demand for each. 

“Typically if we were doing a show in person, we would be doing this for six weeks, at least 4-hour-a-week rehearsals,” Carmichael said. “Now, this season from KTC is going to be free over Skype, so we won’t be making any money from this performance, which will on the one hand make it more inclusive for people to join, but on the other hand it really limits what we can do as performers and as designers.”

The process of doing a show virtually is very different than in a normal theater setting.  

“It’s going to be a while before theater looks like it did before,” Lawton said. “But I hope we pay more attention to what it takes to make a play in the most humane way possible.” 

She says the virtual aspect has significantly cut down on hours for the tech crew, and this experience has the potential to change the way theater is run from now on. However, the lack of money generated from the free virtual showings may be a hard hit for KTC. 

Lawton says there is no end of opportunity for students wanting to get involved in theater. Both she and Carmichael mentioned a myriad of theater companies affiliated with UNC for those interested in acting, research, set design, tech and producing opportunities.   

 Lawton and Carmichael have high hopes for this virtual theater experience. 

“It’s about how individuals in a community come together to survive,” Lawton said. 

Carmichael has a similar message for the audience. 

“I hope that (people) take away that underneath the apocalyptic feel, the main message is a message of hope,” she said. 


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