Durham, NC-based Manbites Dog Theater will present Sonnets for an Old Century, a recent play written by the OBIE Award-winning Puerto Rican dramatist José Rivera and staged by Manbites Dog artistic director Jeff Storer, Sept. 16-26. Rivera is the critically acclaimed author of Marisol (1992), Cloud Tectonics (1995), and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (2000).

Sonnets for an Old Century had its world premiere on Jan. 14, 2000 at Greenway Court Theatre at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. James Eric directed the inaugural production presented by the not-for-profit Greenway Arts Alliance.

Manbites Dog’s web page asks, “What if for one final time you could tell your side of the story? … What would you say?”

According to Manbites Dog, the characters of these “Monologues for the Theatre” are “[s]ixteen ordinary people… [with] sixteen extraordinary stories. Sixteen people find themselves in limbo between life and death with one final chance to speak. They have one final chance to look back at the joy, the pain, the promise and the passion of their lives. Their words will ‘go out to the universe… to be recycled among the living, like rain, like part of some ecology of the spirit.'”

The Manbites Dog cast for Sonnets for an Old Century will include Nanci Burrows, Thaddaeus Edwards, Mario Griego, Etheldreda Guion, Marc Harber, Barbette Hunter, Allison Kirkland, Chaunesti Lyon, Polentzi Mahias, Julie Oliver, Kevin Poole, Beth Popelka, Kendall Rileigh, Harvey Sage, Rida Perez Salazar, and Damion Sledge.

In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Miriam Chirico of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville writes: “As a playwright interested in representing the internal colorations of his characters’ states of mind, Rivera emphasizes characters over plot and nowhere is this emphasis more apparent than in Sonnets for an Old Century and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, both of which premiered in January 2000. Inspired by Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), Sonnets for an Old Century provides a glimpse into the afterlife…. The characters of Sonnets for an Old Century have recently died and are given an opportunity to summarize a moment from their lives before they pass over.”

She adds, “These people have been the victims of cruel forms of hatred during their lives of abuse, of racism, of homophobia or have suffered from certain regrets or failings. Rivera offers no resolutions for either play, no upbeat promises that the human condition is improving, but instead reaffirms the individual’s strength in being able to share his or her story. As Rivera’s focus becomes more internal, he shifts slightly from the magic realism that informed much of his work and draws upon the tradition of existential philosophy.”

Note: There will be no late seating for this show.

Manbites Dog Theater presents Sonnets for an Old Century Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 16-18, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 19, at 3:15 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Sept. 22-25, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 26, at 3:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $12 Wednesday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday, with a $2 discount for advance purchase online at http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Note: There will be a $12 per ticket Opening Night Fundraiser Sept. 16, with half of the ticket sales going to El Centro Hispano, Inc. (The Hispanic Center)/Jovenes Lideres en Accion (Youth Leaders in Action). 919/682-3343. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. Cal State San Marcos José Rivera Bio: http://courses.csusm.edu/geh101cv/JoseRiveraBio.htm.