Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord
The play is set in Miami around the 2008 presidential election and centers on four prep-school girls who are members of the Dead Leaders Club, which was originally formed to worship such iconic figures as John Kennedy, but the leader they are idolizing is the controversial Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Since the school shut them down, they now hold their meetings in the treehouse of club leader Pipe. As the plot starts, they welcome a new member and hold a séance to give her a club name.
Over 90 intermissionless minutes, we learn that all four girls have suffered trauma, tragedy or loss (one girl's father committed suicide, another's young sister drowned in the family pool) and there is even the remote possibility that the father of new member Kit, who died just after she was born, may have actually been Escobar. In successive club meetings, the girls deal with pregnancy scares, Pipe's desire to get the school to reinstate their club, and how the election is forcing their political views to put them at odds with each other, while navigating through life as fearful teenagers who grew up in the shadow of 9/11, and also trying to conjure up the ghost of Pablo Escobar.
There is a lot more that happens, but I've been asked to not mention anything that occurs in the last 15 minutes.
Alexis Scheer has created intriguing characters who are completely different from each other and interesting situations that draw the audience in with their intensity. Her dialogue is truthful and fresh and sounds exactly like how teenagers speak, and the situations she brings up probe and ponder some serious topics that teens face. Her script is well balanced with moments of comedy that help offset the more serious sequences. The play is well paced, with revelations about the characters that add to the drama and flesh out the individuals, and a plot that builds naturally to its shocking conclusion. However, there are some problems with the tone of the story, where a few of the shifts are very abrupt, and some of the key revelations are delivered in Spanish. While there is an English translation Stray Cat is giving audiences access to after the show is over, if you don't speak Spanish, it makes that moment less impactful, which is a major flaw considering how important that part of the play is. Though some things are truly frightening, there are many moments of pure beauty and magic in the play and the production.
Director Virginia Olivieri has assembled a crackerjack cast of young women who beautifully and passionately play this group of four high school teens. They embody their roles with complete intensity and create realistic relationships with each other that form a cohesive group of friends. Their line delivery is natural and their body language and facial expressions work well for the wide range of emotions the script requires. I don't think I've seen a tighter knit and more realistic ensemble in a play in town in years.
Shawnee Fierros Casas Richberger is appropriately entitled, intense and confrontational as Pipe, the wealthy Cuban Republican ringleader of the group, as the character is challenged by other club members who question her leadership tactics and her sexuality. Angel Sicairos is cool, powerful, unafraid and completely sure of herself as Kit, the newest member of the group. With spot-on comic timing, Jasmyn Gade is hilarious as the impulsive and overly excitable youngest member of the group, Zoom; and, as Squeeze, Jazmyne Plantillas is practical, passionate and grounded.
Olivieri's staging makes great use of Robert Andrews' realistic treehouse setting, which ensures the various areas of the set are used effectively. Assistant director Samantha Hanna's choreography of a short dance number that Squeeze rehearses with the group begins as comical but slowly sbecomes a moment of sheer beauty. Dallas Robert Nichols' stunning lighting design and the evocative sound design by Pete Bish create stage images that explode with color and noise, ranging from horrific to magical. Monica Sampson's intimacy and fight choreography achieve natural moments, and I need to also mention the excellent contributions of both Huberto Paz and Eleanor Field.
While I have a couple of quibbles with the swift tone shifts and the use of Spanish for a key moment in the play, with a fantastic cast, impressive creative elements, and excellent direction, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord at Stray Cat Theatre is a thought-provoking, haunting and powerful drama. There are moments that are surreal and shocking, and characters and situations that will most likely stick with you for days.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord runs through November 13, 2021, at Stray Cat Theatre with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, call 480 227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Virginia Olivieri