Five little words—”based on a true story”—can either stir your heart or make it sink when you see them on a theater marquee. Dramatis Personae, a new play by Peruvian playwright Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco, is fictional, but contemplates how stories become true to those who compose them.
Risco centers this heavy-handed psychological drama around Marla (Liza Fernandez), Lucas (Felix Solis), and Ben (Gerardo Rodriguez), young writers in Lima who meet regularly to share ideas and works-in-progress. On one hand, their situation is very real: Their salon is Lucas’s living room, where the windows blew out in an earlier explosion and a hostage standoff with guerrillas and the national army is now unfolding in the square below. On the other, onstage ghosts speak to the trio and animate their literary creations. Despite power cuts and police curfews, these self-analyzing authors hardly discuss the outside world. “Look how selfish we are!” exclaims Marla at one point.
Erik Pearson’s efficient staging, produced by the Playwrights Realm, successfully emphasizes the young scribes’ contemporary mores, making Peru feel a little less far away. Ultimately, though, Dramatis Personae comes off mostly as a garrulous play about writers and writing—even when their stories have the ring of truth.