Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco’s DRAMATIS PERSONAE opened at the Cherry Lane Sudio Theatre last week. A narrative that explores ideas of authorship and the construction of a work of fiction, the play tells the tale of a smash hit first novelist and his writing group – consisting of a best friend and a hanger-on – and their process of creating stories from their own lives. Arguing that every work of fiction is actual well-concealed fact, and positing that all writing (or at least, all the pieces it demonstrates, all the fiction of Risco’s world offers us) is actually an expression of therapy for the writer’s soul.
The play is set against the backdrop of Peru’s political coup in the early nineties, which brings up an interesting question about how the demons of this experience might exorcise themselves in the writers’ worlds. As we discover that the novelist’s trick has been burying and re-burying his long-dead brother, rising high in the esteem of his literarily-minded countrymen, we also watch a group of people with individual, damaging secrets try to overcome their demons through the act of creating stories.
The concepts behind the play are more compelling than Risco’s execution of his idea, and director Erik Pearson’s decision to opt for a hyper-realistic set (designed by Michael Locher) makes the transitions from Risco’s reality into the stories of his characters seem jarring and forced, particularly before one grows used to the device of having the characters in each tale-within-the-tale act out the three friends’ narratives in the same guise, over and over.
There was a lack of notable chemistry in the cast, which included by Felix Solis, Liza Fernandez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Bobby Moreno, and Laura Esposito, but each individual performer was competent and earnest. Risco has a gift for telling short narratives that provoke a defined emotional response, but the overall arc of the story was less than satisfying. As someone without a deep familiarity with Peru’s military coup, parallels to that narrative were not readily apparent, but perhaps a person who had an emotional connection to that event would find the overall arc of the play cathartic – a case where the moving and poignant building blocks that make up Risco’s play could be strung together to make a more compelling, and narratively consistent, tale that made the time and place absolutely critical to the tale, and not just in allowing the best-selling author to devise a theme and plot for his second novel.
One hardly feels like the characters are at risk, except in the moments where they literally under fire from the dissidents across the street, and one wishes this had been heightened. Somehow, while the building blocks of his narrative are individually quite poignant, when strung together they fall short of an overwhelming or lasting effect.
More information on the production can be found at www.playwrightsrealm.org.