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‘Sonnets for an Old Century’ recaps life on way to afterlife

"We are the pages written in the book of God’s mind."

— from "Sonnets for an Old Century"

Confession? Makes the soul whole again.

Even after it’s fled the body.

Such is the thrust of "Sonnets for an Old Century," a series of emotional soliloquies amounting to one haunting play by Jose Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), to be staged as "performative oratory" Saturday at the West Las Vegas Library, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd.

"It’s about, ‘What did you make of your life?’ " says Lanyard Williams, co-director along with his wife, Tammera. "It’s an atonement, a cleansing, a catharsis."

Read off scripts by actors, "Sonnets" is set between life and the afterlife, as a host greets new arrivals and instructs them to tell tales of their experiences in their mortal coils, an explanation of their existence — and occasionally, a defense. Their earthly reflections reveal happiness, regret, defiance, sadness and acceptance, a kaleidoscope of humanity. As the host notes:

"You want to fight with existence? Go for it. You want to scream? Knock yourself out. Just remember: Your words go out to the universe to be recycled among the living, like rain, like part of some ecology of the spirit."

Characters’ musings are specific to their own lives, yet a universality emerges regarding choices to which most can relate, such as one man’s grief over his misguided priorities:

"My ambition was like a disease in my system, commanding me to … kill myself with work 24 hours a day. Even if this disease destroyed me, I had to obey it."

"It’s about, ‘What is this existence all about?’ " Tammera Williams says. "Each character makes you stop and think, ‘Wow, I wonder how I would act in that scenario?’ " To wit: an anguished apology to a man beaten to death on a Bronx street, from a good-Samaritan-who-never-was:

"The two guys were laughing. You fell to the ground. I got out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t call for help, didn’t jump in to break it up, didn’t go back to see if you were OK. I didn’t do nothing but run. If you’re hearing this, I was the one who walked away and left you there, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. … Please forgive me, sir. Please forgive me."

And the predator’s roar of remorselessness:

"Blood was like food to me. … Killed a man in the Bronx. Smashed his face into the grill of a Lincoln Continental with whitewalls, leather interior, nice shine. You think I’m sorry? I’d do it again. You think I’m afraid? Don’t none of you think I’m going to change."

"The cumulative effect is to make people think about what they do and how it affects others," Lanyard Williams says. "Like, if you had to justify your actions, how would you? So you’d better be careful."

But amid sorrow is joy, such as this recollection of the thrill of first-time experiences:

"The first time someone else’s tongue enters your mouth. The first time a child trusts you to carry them to the next room. The first time you can read ‘I love you’ in a lover’s eyes. The first time you sleep in after (making love) all night long. The first family reunion without homicidal fantasies. The first time you contemplate suicide and change your mind. The first recovery after a serious illness. The first time you stand alone and you’re scared to death and you don’t change your position. The first time you forgive the unforgivable."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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