“Marisol” arrives on the University of Minnesota stage

Talvin Wilks is directing “Marisol,” a play written by José Rivera in 1992 that holds ground in 2016.

Director Talvin Wilks coaches actor Alyse Brown in a rehearsal for

Carter Jones

Director Talvin Wilks coaches actor Alyse Brown in a rehearsal for “Marisol” in the Rarig Center on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. Wilks calls the play “a visceral, hallucinatory experience that speaks a truth that is relevant today.”

Maddy Folstein

Talvin Wilks, a visiting faculty member of the University of Minnesota’s theatre arts and dance department, is bringing Jose Rivera’s “Marisol” to the University stage.

Approaching any play is a laborious process. Contemporary and fantastical, Marisol focuses on the end of the millennium, a dying God and Marisol Perez — the titular character at the center of the drama.

A daunting task, yes, but Wilks is well-equipped to pull it off. With nearly 30 years of experience as a dramaturge, director and playwright, Wilks has built a skill set based in multiple artistic disciplines.

“I’m pretty much engaged as a theater-making practitioner, known mostly for collaborative work with poets and new ideas in the theater. … [I’m] more of a ‘downtown theater’ kind of guy, as opposed to an ‘Uptown Broadway’ kind of guy,” Wilks said.

Wilks was brought to the University after faculty members encountered his work with other Twin Cities theater companies.

“[He’s] incredibly thoughtful and very generous as a director. He’s willing to share his ideas and listen. He’s not an autocrat — it really is a true collaboration with [Wilks],” said Marcus Dilliard, department chair and associate professor in the theatre arts and dance department. “I’m looking forward to being surprised. [Wilks] always finds things in a production that I don’t see when I read it.”

And audiences should expect the unexpected. At the show, attendees will be seated on two sides of the stage. They’ll face each other, allowing a communal viewing experience.

During intermission, the ensemble will transform the stage into the more chaotic world of the second act in a choreographed movement sequence.

Wilks made these changes to better develop a difficult, layered script.

“It’s a mystery play. There are expressions of extreme physical and emotional states, humor, violence and extreme violence. We pass over [these] in some type of commentary on economic disenfranchisement and social issues of the late ’80s [and] early ’90s,” Wilks said.

Now 24 years old, “Marisol” feels distinctly representative of its time. It is a play — albeit a contemporary one — that examines an era not so long gone.

“A lot of playwrights [were] looking at apocalyptic-esque issues. The idea of plague, growing homelessness and proliferation of war and the beginning to become aware of climate change,” Wilks said.

While he chose to set “Marisol” in the post-Reagan era, Wilks sees flickers of the current day in the play.

“I feel that it’s a window or mirror … a window of reflection — you’re seeing through something to see yourself,” Wilks said.

Despite thematic and technical challenges, Wilks has worked to ground the play in its emotional sensibilities, even with more fantastical characters like the Angel.

“We had challenges casting the Angel, so I’ve been playing the character. There was one rehearsal where I stepped into the role … I just had an incredible cathartic moment and was bawling by the end of it. [Before that] I didn’t fully understand the weight that she’s taking on her shoulders and the terror inside of that,” Wilks said.

“Marisol’s” production elements have been designed by current University MFA students. Students in the cast are exposed to the ambiguity that Wilks sees in the play.

“[The actors are] always asking questions, and I’m always like, ‘Yes to both.’ [They say], ‘That’s not an answer,’ [and I reply], ‘But I’m interested. Can you make something of that?’” Wilks said. “I’m always interested in the non-choice.”

While students are at the forefront of “Marisol,” Wilks does not see the show as an amateur production.

“This is a professional production to me. This is my work. … I’m proud of the collaboration.”

What: “Marisol”

When: Nov. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 6 and 13 at 2 p.m.

Where: Kilburn Arena Theatre in the Rarig Center, 330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis

Cost: $6 to $16