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Review: A Ghost At The Feast

Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, Aug. 20 – Sept. 17, 2023

Aug. 29, 2023 | By Bruce R. Feldman

In Brief: An overwrought exercise that combines themes of teen angst, childhood trauma, and feminist rage with the supernatural. If this sounds puzzling or unappealing, it is both, but the production is watchable nonetheless thanks to unflinching performances from the play’s four young leads.

From left, Samantha Miller, Coral Peña, Lilian Rebelo, and Ashley Brooke in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

Even though their high school has suspended the Dead Leaders Club – because it’s down to just three members and, let’s face it, because who wants to encourage a group of kids dedicated to deceased rulers anyway? – the remaining trio of excitable teenage girls meets weekly to try to summon the ghost of this semester’s model citizen, Pablo Escobar.

Before they can do that, they first must induct a new member (Coral Peña), who may have a possible but shadowy connection to the notorious drug lord. Or she may not, which is but one of many baffling mysteries playwright Alexis Scheer weaves into her disjointed text.

Over the course of four monthly meetings, Scheer fleshes out intimate details and the adolescent fears of each of the girls. Some of these seem plausible. Others are just downright odd.

Pipe, the ringleader, (Lilian Rebelo) appears self-assured at first. Underneath, she’s emotionally scarred from the drowning death of her younger sister.

Contrast this with Zoom (Ashley Brooke), who is pregnant but claims to be a virgin. She gives birth in a feverish scene near the play’s end. Whether the child is real or symbolic isn’t made clear. Neither is the full meaning of this immaculate artistic misconception, unless it’s as simplistic as who needs a man, even to conceive a child?

In the bizarre final scene, Pipe’s dead sister appears and one of the characters proclaims, “A powerful woman is a dangerous thing.” This might be the main takeaway of Scheer’s jumpy feminist manifesto, or it might not be.

You’d have a hard time knowing because it’s given in Spanish not by one of the four girls, but by the ghost of Pablo Escobar.

While I do not think the writing is accomplished, the performances certainly are. They are impressive.

"Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

The four actresses start as gangly teens and over the production’s taught 90 minutes descend persuasively into frenzied necromancy. They’ve given themselves over completely to their roles. They writhe and declaim passionately with never a hint of irony or winking insincerity.

If director Lindsay Allbaugh cannot find cohesion in the text, she has at least elicited these fine, compelling portrayals. Moreover, she has kept the proceedings moving forward to an inexorable if hard-to-fathom ending.

This edgy, mystical, coming-of-age tale takes place in a treehouse, described in the program as one “almost too big to be believable.” The symbolism may be ambiguous once again, but François-Pierre Couture’s set is striking.

My reservations notwithstanding, the invited opening night audience responded with typical gusto. I doubt that any one of them could put forth a cogent explanation of what was presented on stage, but they gave it the customary Los Angeles standing ovation anyway.

Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is the final presentation of what has been a disappointing Center Theatre Group season, made all the worse by dwindling attendance that did not bounce back after Covid and by budget shortfalls that caused the cancellation of several productions.

Where is Pablo Escobar now that his ill-gotten millions could be put to good use?

While Snehal Desai, who only recently joined as new artistic director, bears no responsibility for the group’s difficulties, he will have his hands full going forward. He must right the ship, then negotiate the narrow channel that forms at the intersection of art, popular taste, and the private and public financial sources that make it all possible.

We all hope that he will be a Gordon Davidson for our times. We wish Desai well.

"Our Dear Dead Drug Lord," Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772,


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