PRINCIPIA SCRIPTORIAE, Circle Theatre. A disgruntled young counterculture-babbling Yank and an equally disgruntled young Oxford-educated Latino cling to their mutual love of poetry in order to endure the brutality of a prison cell in an unnamed Latin American country ravaged by revolution circa 1974. Even more difficult tests await them–12 years later the two find themselves on opposite sides of a negotiating table as their superiors decide the fate of another incarcerated poet. Will their friendship be strong enough to withstand the new, more subtle forces dividing them?

Playwright Richard Nelson explores his premise with a fearless logic that integrates intellect and emotion completely–neither overwhelms the other. Likewise fearless is Tony Vezner’s direction of Circle Theatre’s six-man ensemble, led by Doug MacKechnie and Sam Porretta as the two comrades. Rarely does one see actors commit so completely and irrevocably to their characters, rendering their arguments articulate and their passion extravagant but never allowing either to spill over into propagandistic hyperbole designed to pander to our romantic fantasies of the third world.

Nelson takes the narrative and thematic elements of war plays, prison plays, and men-under-stress plays and forges them into a whole manifestly greater than the sum of its parts. Though it’s only the start of the 1997-’98 theater season, this is a work that will resonate for several more to come. See it.

–Mary Shen Barnidge