Cover art by Martin Olson, commissioned by Manbites Dog Theater, Durham NC

Sonnets for an Old Century

José Rivera
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SONNETS FOR AN OLD CENTURY examines what it means to be alive at this particular time and place and what traces each of us will leave behind. In a series of exquisitely written monologues, using dance and live music, SONNETS captures the subtle, often overlooked treasures of everyday life.

Production Info

Cast: 2 total (1 female, 1 male, up to 12 actors, flexible casting)
Full Length Drama (about 100 minutes)
Minimal Set Requirements
Contemporary Costumes

Press Quotes

“Now we have a SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY to call our own, a work whose scope and insights begin to suggest an OUR TOWN for our generation. The only question left involves what we do with the information. It is a fearsome enough thing. Its name is SONNETS FOR AN OLD CENTURY. Much as Edgar Masters did nearly ninety years before — with a much larger sample from a much smaller town — playwright Jose Rivera gives eighteen characters from present-day Los Angeles and environs one final chance in this collection of dramatic monologues to speak their peace about their lives, apparently from just the other side of the grave.” —Byron Woods, The Independent

“Could you tell your life story In the space of a moment, the length of a sonnet? Playwright Jose Rivera attempts to answer that question for sixteen different individuals in a moving yet amazingly unencumbered play he has titled SONNETS FOR AN OLD CENTURY. In a moment somewhere between life and afterlife, these individuals are assembled. One man, who has been waiting for them, tells them that they have one final chance to tell their stories, and that their words will go out to the universe. This is a deceptively simple work. Yet it builds in its intensity as each storyteller brings his or her own story to life. These are people that we would meet on the street; they are ordinary souls. But their stories are not. They focus power center-stage with their individual stories and what they learned from them. There is not a plot here; there are sixteen individual plots. And each story, small as it might be in and of itself, fills the space, and our ears and our minds, with feeling; joy, fear, rage, love, sorrow; and makes each one expand to fill this void. We as listeners are forced to face these ravaging emotions, even as we contemplate the death of the storyteller. This work is simple, and simply potent in its impact. And while it seems to do without the trappings of stagework, set, plot, scenes, etc, it is powerfully theatrical.” —Alan R Hall, Front Row Center

About the Author


  • José Rivera

    José Rivera is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright. Mr. Rivera has won two Obie Awards for playwriting for MARISOL and REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT, both produced at The Public Theater in New York. His plays THE PROMISE, EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP, CLOUD TECTONICS, THE STREET OF THE SUN, SUEÑO, SONNETS FOR AN OLD CENTURY, SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS, BRAINPEOPLE, GIANTS HAVE US IN THEIR BOOK and THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA have been produced in theaters across the country and around the world. Plays-in-progress include THE LAST BOOK OF HOMER, HUMAN EMOTIONAL PROCESS, THE HOURS ARE FEMININE, a new translation of KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN and SCREAM FOR THE LOST ROMANTICS. ADORATION OF THE OLD WOMAN made its New York debut at INTAR Theatre in March 2014. Celestina, based on his play CLOUD TECTONICS, will mark his debut as a feature film director. Mr. Rivera has received awards from the Fulbright Arts Fellowship, the Whiting Foundation, the Kennedy Center, National Endowment for the Arts, the National Arts Club, New York Foundation for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Mr. Rivera's screenplay for The Motorcycle Diaries was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2005 making him the first Puerto Rican writer to be nominated for an Academy Award. Also nominated for a BAFTA and a Writers Guild Award, The Motorcycle Diaries won top writing awards in Spain and Argentina. His screenplay based on Jack Kerouac's On the Road premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed nationally in the winter of 2013. His film Trade was the first film to premiere at the United Nations. He has story credit on the film The 33 and shares credit on Letters to Juliet. Other screenplays include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Scott Rudin, producer); The State Boys Rebellion; Compositions in Black and White; Three Apples Fell From Heaven (Shekhar Kapur, director); Face Value; Riders on the Storm; American Rust; The Crown (Rodrigo Garcia, director); Vincent (Ben Foster, director); Patriotic Treason (Giancarlo Esposito, director); White Fang (Lance Acord, director); Deity; an untitled film based on the Korean film Failan (Andres Moore, director); and Even Silence Has an End. Television credits include an untitled HBO pilot, co-written and produced by Tom Hanks; The House of Ramon Iglesia; A.K.A. Pablo (Norman Lear, producer); The Eddie Matos Story; Eerie, Indiana (co-creator and producer); Goosebumps; Mayhem (Bob Cooper, producer); The Conquest (Ron Howard, producer); and Latino Roots, an untitled 10-hour limited series for HBO. Mr. Rivera made his film-acting debut playing himself in Margarita with a Straw. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Sundance Institute and has been a creative advisor for Screenwriting Labs in Utah, Jordan and India. A member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre, he leads a weekly writing workshop in New York City, where he lives. In the works is his first novel, Love Makes the City Crumble.

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 9/1/2005
Pages 80
ISBN 9780881452525

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:
The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
Sonnets for an Old Century is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC


Upcoming and Recent Productions


10/17/2022 – 10/17/2022
The Resident Acting Company Inc
New York, NY

4/16/2021 – 5/2/2021
Riverside Theatre
Iowa City, IA

4/12/2021 – 5/9/2021
A Noise Within
Pasadena, CA


10/23/2024 – 10/27/2024
Ball State University
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11/23/2023 – 11/24/2023
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Madrid, Spain

6/15/2023 – 6/25/2023
Spooky Action Theatre
Washington, DC

4/12/2023 – 4/12/2023
Allen Hs Theatre
Allen, TX

10/14/2022 – 10/23/2022
Cosumnes River College - Theatre And Dance Arts
Sacramento, CA

9/15/2022 – 9/15/2022
Tacoma Little Theatre

4/22/2022 – 4/24/2022
Wesleyan University Theater Department
Middletown, CT

3/10/2022 – 3/11/2021
Wvu School Of Theatre & Dance
Morgantown, WV

10/20/2021 – 10/23/2021
California State University, Fullerton
Fullerton, CA

10/6/2021 – 10/17/2021
University Of Texas At Austin
Austin, TX

9/23/2021 – 9/26/2021
Theatre Arts
Salisbury, NC

4/15/2021 – 4/25/2021
University Of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI

4/8/2021 – 4/11/2021
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA

4/2/2021 – 4/4/2021
Florida International University
Miami, FL

2/11/2021 – 2/14/2021
Texas Tech University School Of Theatre And Dance
Lubbock, TX

1/15/2021 – 1/24/2021
Aurora University
Aurora, IL

10/26/2020 – 10/26/2020
Lone Star College-North Harris
Houston, TX

10/25/2020 – 10/25/2020
Found Space Productions
Tacoma, WA

10/16/2020 – 10/16/2020
Citrus College Theatre Arts
Glendora, CA

10/7/2020 – 10/10/2020
Sam Houston State University Department Of Theatre And Musical Theatre
Huntsville, TX

11/22/2019 – 11/23/2019
Cornish College Of The Arts
Seattle, WA

11/15/2019 – 11/17/2019
Miller South Drama Parents Association
Akron, OH

6/5/2019 – 6/8/2019
UCSD Theatre And Dance
La Jolla, CA

5/11/2019 – 5/11/2019
Drake Theatre People
Des Moines, IA

2/22/2018 – 2/25/2018
University Of The Arts - Ira Brind School Of Theater Arts
Philadelphia, PA

5/5/2017 – 5/6/2017
Waller High School Theatre
Waller, TX

3/30/2017 – 4/8/2017
Florida Southwestern State College
Fort Myers, FL

3/12/2017 – 3/15/2017
UCLA Department Of Theater
Los Angeles, CA

4/16/2016 – 4/16/2016
Grossmont College Theatre Arts Dept.
El Cajon, CA