In middle school, I was entranced by E.L. Konigsburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, a tale of two girls living on the edge. Witch Jennifer made novice Elizabeth eat raw eggs before she would teach her how to cast spells. The book beautifully captured the imagination, casual cruelty and competitiveness that can underlie girls’ friendships.
Playwright Alexis Scheer has written an exponentially more complicated take on these classic themes, for older girls whose stakes are higher. In the exceptional Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, now playing at Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, four teenage girls are part of the Dear Dead Leaders club. They meet in a spacious treehouse to jockey for position and summon the spirit of Pablo Escobar.
When the play opens, in September 2008, the club has been on hiatus and is being restarted. The meeting place is at the Miami home of Pipe (Lilian Rebelo), and she is the group’s fierce leader. An aspiring new member, Kit (Coral Peña), must go through the initiation process. Zoom (Ashley Brooke) and Squeeze (Samantha Miller) round out the group, each bringing a unique set of desires and demons.
Over the ensuing four monthly club meetings, death and violence shadow the club’s proceedings. A poster of a young Escobar, who has been dead for 15 years, hangs over the two-level interior, guiding their activities and yearnings. They use cocaine in their summonings. Kit, whose mother is Columbian, speculates that she might be the drug lord’s daughter.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is riveting and tight, beautifully acted and directed, with surprises and insights. Laugh-out-loud funny at the beginning, it unspools in increasingly moving and disturbing ways, guided by director Lindsay Allbaugh. As the girls come of age, push boundaries and grapple with the lack of control they have over their own lives, they go deep across sex, religion, race and cultural identity, politics and theater nerdom. It’s a wild ride.
The show was produced in association with IAMA Theatre Company, which continues to push boundaries itself (see a Buzz review here).
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord runs through Sept. 17 at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City. Show times are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm. Running time is 90 minutes. Tickets are $30-79 and can be purchased here. Thinking you might want to bring the kids? 16 and up only, please, and consider reading this guide for parents.