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Teen-girl drama meets ‘The Crucible’ in ‘Our Dear Dead Drug Lord’ at Kirk Douglas Theatre


From left: Samantha Miller (Squeeze), Coral Peña (Kit), Lilian Rebelo (Pipe) and Ashley Brooke (Zoom) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

A collaboration between Center Theatre Group and IAMA Theatre Company, Alexis Scheer’s “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” finds four young women negotiating life and death in a treehouse as they attempt to bring back dead real-life drug lord Pablo Escobar—his mugshot looming high above them—to help heal their own wounds.


Though alternately funny and gruesome—and commendable for portraying a world exclusively of young women (except for the drug lord’s hovering spirit)—the play unfortunately stops short of being poignant. We don’t necessarily feel what the girls are feeling, though we see them acting out their pain in excruciating ways that make us cringe.

From left: Coral Peña (Kit), Ashley Brooke (Zoom), Lilian Rebelo (Pipe) and Samantha Miller (Squeeze) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

As in Arthur Miller’s 1952 play “The Crucible,” about the Salem witch trials of the early 1690s during which more than a dozen women were executed for witchcraft in early-American Puritan society, the young women in “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” act subversively in a similarly patriarchal world.


The privacy of the treehouse allows the girls to unflinchingly explore sex, death and the supernatural away from their everyday concerns of high school, SATs, boys and parents. They gather materials for a high-powered séance that include electric candles, stones, a Ouija board—and a live sacrifice, which they don’t shy away from.

From left: Samantha Miller (Squeeze), Coral Peña (Kit), Lilian Rebelo (Pipe) and Ashley Brooke (Zoom) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

The girls’ choice of Pablo Escobar as the antihero of their school-sponsored Dead Leaders Club makes sense in light of their own feelings of disempowerment—they are willing to worship a mastermind known for violent bloodshed because he had ruthless power, which they don’t.


Moreover, Escobar reminds them of a gardener who played a role in a pivotal moment of one of the girls’ lives. We learn that Pipe’s younger sister had died in a pool drowning while Pipe was romantically occupied in the treehouse, leaving a gaping hole in her psyche.

From left: Lilian Rebelo (Pipe) and Coral Peña (Kit) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

Lilian Rebelo plays the otherwise confident Pipe spunkily, though Rebelo is more kitten than lioness, somewhat limiting the impact of her character’s prowling, growling and, yes—like Helen Reddy’s anthem “I Am Woman” back in the early 1970s—roaring.


Ashley Brooke as the goofy and imaginative Zoom similarly sparkles, yet her character remains one-dimensional. We know she is Jewish, and doesn’t fully realize what sex is (the boy in the equation is simply called “Soccer Dude”), but in the end she remains an object to whom something horrific is done.


The remaining two actresses of the quartet add heft, however. Coral Peña as Kit grounds the ensemble like a rock, making palpable her earthy character’s resilient self-possession despite difficult life circumstances. And of all the characters, we feel Squeeze’s pain the most as portrayed by a warm and natural Samantha Miller.

From left: Coral Peña (Kit), Samantha Miller (Squeeze), Ashley Brooke (Zoom) and Lilian Rebelo (Pipe) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

Squeeze translates the heartbreaking loss of her father into a dance that she teaches the other girls. Funny at first, the dance morphs into a powerful feminine statement as they rehearse it—archetypically evoking snakes, bears and even Heath Ledger’s deadly evil The Joker (the play is set in 2008).


Though the final moments of the play are climactic in terms of horrific shock and surprise turn, it is this dance that is the heart of “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord.” In dance, we see the girls’ breath and bodies move as one, rhythmically telling a wordless story as old as femininity, their feet stomping, arms swinging, silently screaming an implicit strength in a way we can feel.


It is as moving a scene as the final, more verbal culmination, which can also be felt, but perhaps not believed in the same way. Though the girls recite in passionate unison (intensely enough to elicit tears from Rebelo on opening night), they speak as individuals, emphasizing “I” and “my” and “mine”—not so different in tone from the toxic masculinity that Pablo Escobar embodied.

From left: Samantha Miller (Squeeze), Lilian Rebelo (Pipe), Ashley Brooke (Zoom) and Coral Peña (Kit) in "Our Dear Dead Drug Lord" at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in association with IAMA Theatre Company (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

Admirably directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, the production is well-paced and dynamic, the actors moving fluidly as an ensemble and crisply delivering lines. Scenic design of the “almost too big to be believed” treehouse by François-Pierre Couture nearly upstages the actors in its whimsical detail, enhanced by lighting effects (Azra King-Abadi) and moody music (Veronika Vorel).


Ultimately, “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” is a visceral rallying cry for girls and women to own their voices and mark their places in the world. To embrace the flows of life, blood and death their bodies are capable of producing. To resist patriarchal constraints, like the Salem “witches,” punished for subversive beliefs real or imagined—but hopefully not by sacrificing the feelings that make them human.


“Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” continues at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, through Sept. 17, with performances Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $79 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (213) 628-2772 or visiting CenterTheatreGroup.org. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission.





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