Expect The Unexpected From Zoetic’s Unforgettable ‘Our Dear Dead Drug Lord’
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.
Gina Fonseca, Mikayla Queeley, Rachel Eddy, Sofia Duemichen – Photo by Justin Namon
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.
Mikayla Queeley, Gina Fonseca, Sofia Duemichen – Photo by Justin Namon
As far as what else to take away from the scene and what the play as a whole, I’m somewhat more at a loss. Intuitively and viscerally, the play’s conclusion certainly seems to work, but it works almost at the expense of everything that the play has built thus far in terms of the characters and their relationships as madness overtakes conscience, magic proves itself real, and a dark manifesto emerges in the place of a more conventional resolution. Then again, though, what else is the theatre for if not for these kinds of experimental dalliances: if not for the occasional indulgence in wild hypotheticals and metaphoricals even at linear “story”s expense, especially if those hypotheticals are presented as strikingly as they are in Our Dear Dead Drug Lord.
And even assuming that the sheer weirdness of Scheer’s play means that it’s unlikely you’ll get a chance to see it anywhere else in the region anytime soon, the play’s overall high production values and its fierce and diverse cast of talented young female actresses are another reason not to miss Zoetic’s rendition. Gina Fonseca exudes a controlled and sensual energy as the mysterious newcomer Kit, and Rachel Eddy provides a good deal of the play’s comedy as the awkward and overly hyper Zoom. Sofia Duemichen is able to balance her character Pipe’s take-charge energy and profound insecurity, and Mikayla Queeley confidently completes the quartet as the politically and physically passionate Squeeze.
Excellent co-direction by Stuart Meltzer and Elena Maria Garcia also ensures that the play strikes the delicate balance of comedy and intensity it needs to achieve its ends. You have until May 22 to catch the show if you’d like to see what these ends are for yourself—well, if you dare!