Quiet. Small. Submissive. What happens when this repression is taken so far that young women who are looking to reclaim their voice, strength, and power turn to dear dead drug lords and dictators for inspiration? What can women learn from the likes of the fearless? What do a group of high schoolers need from Pablo Escobar?
There is an often-untapped power in women’s anger; it can shift the tides of politics and turn the tables towards social change. After watching Alexis Scheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, directed fearlessly by Whitney White, I feel a deeper understanding of this.
At the penultimate moment of the piece, a bloody Pipe (played emotionally and evocatively by Carmen Berkeley) proves that she will not stay small and quiet in a Medea-aligned monologue, and the audience fears the raw truth in her performance. Actress Rebecca Jimenez, in a moment of more subdued strength, states that she “…can’t be scared if I’m what’s scary,” sending a shiver through the audience. Scheer convinces us that there is reason to fear young women, whose potential has not yet been quieted by the expectations of the world.
The treehouse setting, designed by Yu-Hsuan Chen, is a beautifully inhabited place where childhood, mystery and magic meet. The play focuses on a group of four high school girls who are looking to both reinstate The Dead Leaders Club at their school and summon the spirit of Pablo Escobar. However, we never forget that male power structures and dominates their world, as they discuss politics (the 2008 election is looming), racism, and sexism beneath a larger-than-life and incredibly colorful poster of Pablo Escobar.
The play, a WP Theater and Second Stage Theater co-production at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, is as funny as it is violent and dark. Scheer does an expert job of writing flawed but loveable characters, played realistically by Berkeley and Jimenez, as well as the endearing and comedic Alyssa May Gold and Malika Samuel. Having been a high schooler myself in the not-too-far past, I recognized myself and others in these girls and found great sympathy, humor, and catharsis in their journey.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention a moment of extreme violence that played out on the stage. Shocking and bloody, it is not one the audience will be quick to recover from. I was left to ponder if the violence itself is most shocking, or the fact that it is performed on women by women.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is not quiet, small, or apologetic. It is loud and messy and truthful. It is incredibly complicated and a thing of extreme beauty. It is everything in women that society tells them they need to repress, and in this I found it incredibly enjoyable and inspiring. Go see it!
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
"The self-styled mediums in this highly entertaining, equally sobering little play — a co-production of the WP and Second Stage theaters — come naturally by their affinity for the dark side. They’re all teenagers — or, to be specific, teenage girls, a thin-skinned, hormonally saturated species that tends to exist at the tips of its nerve ends."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Under Whitney White’s energetic direction, Samuel and the adorkable Gold mostly serve as comic relief to Berkeley and Jimenez’s ferocious alpha females. Their excellent acting sells some of Scheer’s wonkier bits—especially the talk about 9/11 and Obama’s election, which don’t convince as teenspeak. But just when you think you know where the play is heading, there’s a disorienting coup de théâtre that leaves you shaken. Our Dear Dead Drug Lord isn’t for the faint of heart, but neither is coming of age."
Raven Snook for Time Out New York