Review by Tulis McCall
(08 Oct 2010)
A few months ago I had a chance to see another Playwrights Realm production, Dreams of a Washer King. This company has repeated their success with their second offering of the year Dramatis Personae by Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco.
In this play there is a "situation" in Peru - nothing that would matter much to those of us from El Norte because we only supply the arms – we don’t track them. So Risco has his hands full just to get our attention. He more than meets the challenge.
In a tiny apartment in the town of said skirmish, three people Lucas (Felix Solis), Ben (Gerardo Rodriguez) and Marla (Liza Fernandez) have formed a writing group to help them survive. The catch is that they don't write per se. They tell stories. They tell simple stories: there is a wall in a bathroom where the graffiti artists are having a conversation about Jesus and Santa. They tell complicated stories: a woman cutting vegetables is seized with the realization that her husband must be killed and acts on it. They tell the surreal stories: a man is haunted by his brother's ghost who only comes when he is called.
Mind you, this is all happening while the "situation" is going on a block away. Gunfire is heard. Bombs explode. Electricity fails. Curfews are respected. Through this insanity the band of three carries on. In the middle of war people figure out ways to live. There is the order of war and there is the disorder of war. It is in the middle of the disorder that life clings to the rock-face and sinks roots.
Into this triumvirate Risco introduces Bobby Moreno and Laura Esposito who effortlessly slide from fiction to reality to dreams. It is a choice reminiscent of Pablo Neruda, or Isabelle Allende, or Gabriel García Márquez. The surreal is as close as the fabric of your shirt. Soon the stories and the lives and the "situation" create their own trinity and the actors and characters serve the larger picture.
This is theatre with a distinct voice. Risco makes a proposition and then delivers. As directed by Erik Pearson, this fine, fine cast - assisted by a stunning sound design that actually deserves mention in the program, take the shattered pieces of their situation and create characters who spin a cocoon that delivers them up into a stratosphere they would have us believe is within our reach.
This is not a smooth comfortable piece. I thought it actually ended before it ended, and didn't understand or care much for the glaring lights upstage that only served to hide the actors and hurt my eyes. These are technical issues to be addressed by this artistic team.
What does work is being reacquainted with The Playwrights Realm. This company is brave and a little insane. They pick shows that come out of left field and whack you between the eyes. Then they produce them on a stage (gotta LOVE Cherry Lane) that is roughly the size of a two car garage. Their theatrical magic is the best kind - determined, discriminating, dense and delicious.
"Consists of too much talk about writing and not enough action of any sort."
Robert Windeler for Back Stage