Death of a Mercenary

"A tragedy that begins in the final years
of the dictatorship of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza, and concludes a decade later during the Reagan Era of covert operations in Central America."


Fall 1993

Death of a Mercenary (La muerte de un Mercenario), was my first English-language play. It was also one of the finalists at the 1998 International Student Playscript Competition (ISPC) in London, England. If I remember well, the competition was sponsored by The Sunday Times and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). Now, here is something few people know about me: I began writing years before I picked up a paintbrush. And in fact, all my murals and paintings begin with a detailed written description of the visual content.

My journey as a playwright began at age 14, when I wrote my first religious theme skit for a church program: "Los Villalobos". Over the years, I wrote and staged about half a dozen complete plays for church presentations. They were all written in my native language, which is Spanish, since back then I still couldn't speak a word of English.

My last Spanish-language play presented in Puerto Rico was "Como en los días de Noé" (Like in the Days of Noah), a huge spectacle production with half a dozen set changes and a cast of 20. I wrote, produced, designed, directed, and acted in the production, which opened to an estimated audience of 600 people at the old temple of La Iglesia Fuente de Salvación Misionera, MI, in the summer of 76. I was only 17 and ambitious beyond my years.


Cover illustration for Death of a Mercenary, created by John Rivera-Resto, 1997.

But the years following those happy days in the 70s had taken a darker turn. My youthful illusions and dreams built on innocent and idylic notions had been hammered away. So when the fall of 1993 found me doing a college internship in Washington D.C., I fell into a period of deep introspection and self-reflection, which gave rise to a disconcerting anxiety that compelled me to write. The result was "Death of a Mercenary" -my fist English-language play.

During my internship, I was lodged at Trinity Washington University, a Catholic university in Washington, D.C. that still maintained its original status as a liberal arts women's college. Yep, you read right: a girl's college. The Washington Center Internship Program had an arrangement with Trinity for interns in the program to use the college dorms during the school's regular summer class break. Still, there were still over a hundred girls around and plenty more from the program, which made my stay at the idyllic campus even more charming. Oh, there were a few other guys there too also lodged in the building, but I didn't pay them much attention.

If anyone tells you that the White House and Capital Hill are run by interns in their twenties, believe it. They were the cream of the crop of our nation's colleges and universities on their way to being groomed for leadership positions back home. This was what the interns in the Washington Center Program did -except me. I chose to work with other arts organizations, which saved me from having to get up at the crack of dawn to catch "the rapid" (transit system), wear a suit and tie, or having to work my ass off for some congressional office. But I still managed to enjoy the privileges other interns enjoyed and experienced some of the many ins-and-outs of Washington life.

It would be a safe bet to say that I was and felt a little different to everyone else. Since I had returned to college after a ten-year break, I was much older than everyone else. Also, I didn't socialize much (drinking was not my thing), and once my daily agenda was over, I had plenty of time to myself. I read, did a couple of portraits (see The thought and The squint and the smile of an s.o.b. in the Paintings page), made frequent visits to the Smithonian Museums and the National Art Gallery, and studied my research notes to write a play about the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. But when I finally sat down to write, what came out was a dark tale about past events brewing in my mind.

I do not intend to explain what happened. I will not elaborate as to the origin of the story. I have nothing else to talk about on the subject, except that Death of a mercenary was a work of fiction with a lot of truth in it. I completed writing the manuscript in its final form in 1995, though it was not until 1997 that I registered the work after doing final revisions and adding supplementary material. I wrote in English because, after 1977, I lived in an English-speaking world so all my mental references, termilogies and memories were in this language.

I only showed the play to a few friends. I never wrote it with the intention of having it produced. I wrote it to clear my head and move on with my life. But professional pride kept nagging at me. I am a good judge of my artistic skills. I felt the play was good. Even very good. But I became curious about what others might think of it. At the time, I was associated with the Cleveland Public Theater. But CPT did experimental and modern plays and I didn't think they would be the right fit for a traditional style play. And, I didn't feel comfortable having anyone who knew me critique it. So I decided to go big.

I found a registry of theaters from around the nation that produced new plays, printed about a dozen copies of the manuscript, and dropped them in the mail. In time I got replies from about half of them. For the most part, the notes were encouraging. Almost all stated it was not the type of play they produced, but that they enjoyed the reading very much. One even expressed sorrow that the play was too big for them, and another advice me to turn it into a screenplay. Again, I had no illusions of having it produced, because as it had already been noted, the subject was not everyone's cup of tea or it was too big a production for the stage. I just wanted to know how other's felt about it.

Then, on a windy and cool fall evening, to my complete surprise, I received a very nice handwritten letter by Professor Peter Thomson, Emeritus Professor of Drama at Exeter University in the U.K. He had written to inform me that my play had made eighth place on the finalist list at he International Student Playscript Competition (ISPC). The International Student Playscript Competition is a playwright competition sponsored by the Sunday Times, and opened to anyone based anywhere in the world. I read somewhere that they received over a thousand entries per year. The entry rules were simple: It was totally free to enter and there are no restrictions on form, content, or length, except that it must be a new play, or adaptation, and it should be written in English.

The truth is that I had completely forgotten about it as many months had past. This was my idea of going big and so I sent a copy to the competition just for the hell of it. In the promo material they promised to read every single play submitted and send back a critique. But I never expected Professor Thomson, a renown expert and author on Shakespeare and Brecht to be the one reading it! To say I was pleased would be an understatement. When you take time to consider that this competition was (and still is) international, with up to a thousand entries, making eighth place is pretty darn good. This was all the validation I needed.

In his letter, Professor Thomson even took the time to write some encouraging words of advise, adding that it was the type of work you take to Hollywood. This awakened some of those early illusions I once had while living in Puerto Rico. It became the beginning of another story for another day. In the same way I took a giant leap in my artistic adventure by creating a 2,275 square foot mural as my first painting, writing Death of a Mercenary proved also to be a giant leap in confidence as a writer. I sent a reply to Professor Thomson thanking him for his letter, and then put the manuscript away until I decided to post it in

So here it is, posted below in PDF form, my first English-language play: Death of a mercenary. The manuscript is in its original 1997 form so my contact information is not current (go to the How to Contact link in the Menu page for the updated information). I hope you take time to read it and see another side of me: the playwright. But let me end by reminding you again of the following:


Muralmaster® is ‘an educational site’ privately sponsored and maintained. It contains no pop-ups, sales banners or advertisements. People from over thirty countries routinely visit Muralmaster to enjoy the articles and admire the art. This website is also a great learning tool for artists and young students wanting to know more about the inner workings of this artistic profession. In Muralmaster they get what they can’t get elsewhere: an intimate and sobering look into the struggles of an artistic mind and the difficult career-realities of being an artist.