BOTTOM LINE: A well-written, well-made, well-acted play about writers living through political and emotional upheaval.
Dramatis Personae addresses the questions of why writers write, why they can't, and what happens when characters loom larger than the people who created them. Peruvian playwright Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco has written a script with moments no writer will fail to recognize themselves in, but also with plenty to keep the general audience engaged.
Set during Peru's political coup in the 1990s, the opening scene shows three writers gathered in the artfully destroyed living room of Lucas (Felix Solis), a critically acclaimed, best-selling author of exactly one novel. Outside of Lucas's windows, which were shattered by a bomb blast, you can hear gunshots and see across the courtyard where terrorists are holding civilians hostage — including the ex-husband of Marla (Liza Fernandez).
Ben (Gerardo Rodriguez) delivers a witty monologue on the graffiti he found on a bathroom wall and manages to tease from this episode a character named Squiggles, who becomes the fictional ghost who haunts him throughout the play. Each writer has his own personal apparitions, characters they've created who are equal parts demons and muses. Maximizing on Joanne E. McInerney's very clever staging, director Erik Pearson has Bobby Moreno and Laura Esposito alternately play Ben's characters (Squiggles/a prostitute), Marla's characters (a husband and wife who are thinly veiled representations of her and her ex-husband) and most touchingly Marc (Lucas's deceased brother) who is the main character in his novel and won't stay dead no matter how many times Lucas kills him.
The three writers have complex relationships with each other and with their characters, who rarely do what their creators expect and often expose their deepest fears and insecurities. All five actors have good chemistry and excellent timing, especially Moreno and Esposito, who fluidly transition between characters in their stories within this story. The lines between reality and fiction are blended in very evocative ways, aided greatly by Burke Brown's impressive lighting and Nathan A. Roberts' cinematic sound design. In one particularly excellent scene, a bomb blast signaled by brilliant backlighting and an enormous boom, destroys the living room, but in the writers' subconscious, it is the characters confronting them, overturning furniture and ripping down books.
The play ends where it begins with the three writers excerpting from their works. This time, their stories reveal the fragile compromises they've reached with their personal relationships and their creative impulses — the best you can do in a complex, troubled world. This is a play created by a writer's writer for fellow writers as well as for anyone who appreciates layered, darkly funny, well-produced theater.
(Dramatis Personae plays at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, through October 23, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7pm (with added performances on Sunday, October 3rd at 7pm and Wednesday, October 13th at 3pm). Tickets are $20-$30 and are available at www.playwrightsrealm.org or by calling TeleCharge at 212.239.6200.)