By turns humorous and harrowing, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is a relatively new play by Alexis Scheer currently making its South Florida premiere at Zoetic Stage—and it’s a play that its audiences are pretty damn unlikely to forget. It’s also a play that somewhat recalls Zoetic’s 2019 offering The Wolves in its sometimes overlapping mile-a-minute-dialogue and its focus on the sometimes messy reality of teenage girlhood.
But where The Wolves was perhaps most exceptional in its unique commitment to naturalism in both dialogue and structure, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord eventually delves not only into the surreal but into the outright disturbing as what starts off as a relatively light comedy involving four quirky teenage girls gradually deepens into an emotionally compelling look at their damaged psyches, before transforming again into something totally unexpected in a burst of stunning theatricality.
The play takes place in 2008, during the lead-up to Obama’s first election, and introduces its central characters at their treehouse meeting of the Dead Leaders Club as they prepare for a seance intended to summon the titular Pablo Escobar from beyond the grave. This experiment has intriguing results that set the rest of the plot in motion, and, in the process, both physical and emotional scars are revealed as the characters reckon with their traumatic pasts.
Some of their painful revelations did, though, feel a little gratuitous while Pipe and Kit’s backstories feel central to their characters and to the plot, a revelation about Squeeze’s father feels more thrown-in for the sake of delivering yet another curveball. Still, a lot of the play’s dialogue is surprisingly slice-of-life and surprisingly funny as the characters flirt, fight, and deal with the typical trials and travails of adolescence—all while trying to figure out how, if, and why the spirit of Escobar may actually be attempting to contact them.
Because I looked at the digital playbill before the show—and because it features a translation of a late-play scene featuring two unexpected characters that is performed partially in Spanish—it’s hard to tell whether I would’ve seen the way this plotline resolves itself coming if I had not, nor whether having a better idea of where the play was going in at least some sense affected my overall approach to it. However, what I definitely didn’t see coming was a representation of an act so shockingly violent that I actually found myself flinching and covering my eyes once I realized what was about to occur.
It’s also one that has a resonance that neither the playwright nor the creative team could’ve anticipated given this particular cultural moment, and one that I hope could awaken some semblance of a conscience in anyone who hasn’t considered the gravity of some of the threats facing women today. Though some of the ending’s take-what’s-mine rhetoric is also something that perhaps takes on new meaning in this fraught age, I doubt that was the playwright’s particular intention, though a feminist statement of some sort can be more clearly discerned.