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From Phyllida's Desk

Play recommendation: Muerte Subita

"Andres is passionately writing his third novel." That's the deceptively benign situation of Muerte Subita* (Sudden Death), the exhilarating--and frightening--play by noted Mexican playwright Sabina Berman that has just three performances left at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City. If you are a writer, an artist, or anybody who enjoys intimate, perfectly realized theater productions, you won't want to miss Muerte Subita.

There are only 24 seats in the performance space, a room off the hotel lobby. The audience sits right on the edge of the action, watching a crisis unfolding from only a few feet away. It sounds intrusive, uncomfortable, but it's not. It's genuine 3D, not a trick of moving images. Real people, flesh and blood, close enough to touch but still (barely) preserving that fourth wall of theater.

The three actors are excellent. Rodrigo Cuevas (Andres), makes this most difficult part, the youthful writer paralyzed by his desire for literary greatness, sympathetic and familiar. (It doesn't hurt that he's also gorgeous.) Ana Grosse (Gloria) is perfect as Andres' beautiful, eminently practical model/actress girlfriend, eager to the make the most of her one-word role in a wine commercial.

But there's no doubt that Alfredo Huereca (Odiseo) steals the show. His character is menacing, disturbing and comic all at once. "What have you been weaving, Penelope?" he asks Andres when he (re)appears after a long absence. We know nothing good is going to happen, and we can't wait to see it.

The dialogue is clever and sophisticated--and rapid. If you're not fluent in Spanish, the English supertitles are essential. "Andres doesn't want to be understood; he wants to be studied," Gloria says. When Andres explains why he still uses a typewriter instead of a laptop: "I like to make noise when I work," Odiseo replies, "I like to make literature when I work."

Muerte Subita will make you think and it will make you laugh. And if you've ever doubted yourself as a writer or an artist, Muerte Subita will scare you (almost) to death. In a good way.

Wed., June 20, and Fri. and Sat., June 22 and 23 at 8. Gershwin Hotel, 7 E. 27th St. (east of Fifth Ave., just around the corner from the Museum of Sex. $20.

*I've left the diacritics out (Subitá, Andrés) because so many Web sites screw them up. No offense is intended to the Spanish language.

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