Sounds Too Familiar: UA play considers dystopian future

Sounds Too Familiar: UA play considers dystopian future
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

Jose Rivera’s “Marisol” — a University Theatre production directed by Huan Bui that is now on stage at the Nadine Baum Theatre — is a wild fable, a roller coaster tumble into a dystopian nightmare in which Americans wear gas masks on the street, citizens fight citizens, the climate is in full revolt and neo-Nazis roam the streets. Given the timeliness of its subject matter, it could have been written yesterday, but it’s actually nearly 30 years old.

“I read it, and I thought, ‘Oh, I have to tell this story — it’s so relevant and relatable,’” says Bui. “I just fell in love with it.”

Bui is a Fulbright scholar from Vietnam, studying directing in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas. Last year, he directed “The Laramie Project,” his first mainstage production at the UA.

Rivera’s play tells the story of a young Puerto Rican woman named Marisol who, in the opening scene, narrowly escapes serious injury when she’s assaulted on her way home from work. She’s saved by her guardian angel, who delivers bad news when Marisol is finally safe behind her apartment door: The guardian angels are taking up arms against God, who has descended into dementia.

“You have to fight,” orders the angel. “You can’t endure anymore. You can’t trust luck or prayer or mercy or other people. When I drop my wings, all hell’s going to break loose, and, soon, you’re not going to recognize the world. So get yourself some power, Marisol, whatever you do.”

“When I first read it, there are lines in it that really struck me, how it paints a picture of what we’re experiencing now,” says Bui. “The way in which the author describes a dystopia, people going outside on the street with gas masks, like we’re wearing masks now. The play kills half of the population, and there are a lot of nature catastrophes. A lot of events happening around the world just urged me to tell this story.”

The New York Times said of a production some years ago that “glints of rueful humor intermittently glimmer. But mostly the play is somber in its unsparing, at times strangely poetic, treatment of issues such as homelessness, mental illness, ecological disaster and civil disorder.”

Still, assures Bui, while the play may take its audience on a tour through a bleak dystopian society where hope is hard to come by, the ultimate message it leaves us with is optimistic.

“What really appealed to me is the journey of the main character, Marisol,” he says. “She kind of defined what exactly is a dystopia. It’s not exactly about a broken world or distorted space or time or poisonous food. It’s our behavior, our attitude, and how we deal with those problems that defines what exactly is dystopia. She never loses hope. She just desires to survive, to connect, to keep fighting for protection and friendship and human being connections over all of the chaos. I think that’s the biggest message of the play.”

Bui credits his outstanding creative team for successfully bringing the apocalyptic world to the stage.

“One challenge that I have is that I am from Vietnam, and the cultural aspect of this play is huge — it’s talking about the journey of a Latinx woman,” he says. “What challenged me a lot is how to decipher the cultural aspect of the show, and, thankfully, I have a wonderful cultural adviser [in TheatreSquared’s Rebecca Rivas]. She helped me a lot through this project. I don’t think I would be confident enough without her help.

“I also really want to talk about how violence is a very essential and crucial part of this show — our intimacy director and fight director have helped a lot,” says Bui. “The violence helps convey the brutal vision of how chaotic the world is in this show.”

The show’s intimacy director is Mollie Armour, and its fight choreographer is Riles Newsome.

“I could never finish this show without a lot of help,” Bui concludes. “I think that’s what is so beautiful about theater — the process of collaboration within a community.”




WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1-4; 2 p.m. Dec. 5

WHERE — University Theatre at Nadine Baum Studio Theatre, 505 W. Spring St., Fayetteville

COST — Tickets are free but must be reserved online at

INFO — 575-4752

Categories: Theater