Picture the scene – a large treehouse in a ritzy area of Miami, fall 2008. Four high school girls from a local prep school gather to initiate the newest member of a club – one that worships the drug lord Pablo Escobar. Playwright Alexis Sheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is an intriguing 90-minute exploration of trauma through the eyes of teenage girls, one that unfortunately falls apart at the end. While the issues are more structural than dramatic, they cloud over what could be a bright – maybe even explosive – conclusion.
Described as “Mean Girls meets Narcos,” there’s a lot of rich, delicious theater here, and the actors really get to feast.
With rat-a-tat dialogue that seems straight out of Gilmore Girls, the audience follows the four girls, known only by their Ouija-board designated nicknames – queen bee Pipe (Lilian Rebelo), Squeeze (Samantha Miller), Zoom (Ashley Brooke), and new initiate Kit (Coral Pena) – over the club’s second Tuesday of the month meetings, held at the treehouse because the school has suspended the club over their fascination with the notorious drug lord as the inappropriate choice of the “Dead Leaders Club.”
While their conversations cover typical teenage girl topics – boys, jobs, school, college, the 2008 election – they are also circling around using black magic in an attempt to conjure Escobar’s spirit as a misguided attempt to deal with trauma – for Pipe, the death of her little sister while she was babysitting; for Squeeze, her father’s suicide; for Kit, the absence of a father figure (in a very clever running joke, the other three girls believe she may actually be Escobar’s daughter); and Zoom, whose need for affection leads her into wild conspiracy theories and problematic choices.
While a majority of the action is crisp and compelling, Sheer’s choice to play out crucial pieces of the climax in Spanish (with translations handed out after the curtain goes down) blunts the power of the girls’ final act, obscuring the power of the message.
Performances are top-notch across the board. Rebelo, Miller, and Pena completely embody their teenage alter egos, but special kudos belong to Brooke as Zoom, who gets the funniest lines of the play and nails them every time. Supporting performers Aliyah Bella Camacho and Juan Francisco Villa are pitch-perfect in their small but vital roles. Director Lindsay Allbaugh keeps the pace moving at just the right speed, especially as the tension ramps up in the final scene. Francois-Pierre Couture’s funky treehouse set is the perfect teenage girl hangout, and Elena Flores’s costumes nail the late 2000s trends. Azra King-Abadi’s lighting design and Veronika Vorel’s sound design helps up the suspense and creepiness of the ending.
While the show is ultimately not a home run, I applaud CTG and its co-producers IAMA Theatre Company for bringing another provocative piece from a unique voice. Let’s hope that CTG is able to regroup in the KDT’s downtime and bring us more shows like this.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, August 20-September 17. Tickets at www.ctgla.org