‘Dear Drug Lord’ goes off in too many directions
BOSTON – As one of Boston’s newer fringe theater groups , the Off the Grid Theatre Company is still finding its footing.
Its production of “The Weird,” a year ago was a critical success due to contributions from some of the area’s finest playwrights, some strong performances, and interesting themes that coalesced under the direction of Steven Bogart.
Unfortunately, Off The Grid’s present workshop premiere production of “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts hasn’t coalesced in that same way.
Playwright Alexis Scheer seems determined to make the theater-goer not only laugh, but be shocked, horrified and disgusted – all in the same 90 minutes.
And that’s just fine, except that in doing that you make your play like a herky-jerky roller coaster ride as the cars accelerate and pick up speed in one direction, then come to a crashing halt before heading off in another direction, with another emotion coming up just around the bend.
The biggest reason “Drug Lord” is all over the place is because, well, teenage girls are all over the place, too, experimenting with sex, obsessing with celebrities, observing their own rituals, their in-school rivalries and sometimes … the occult, bringing the spiritual world, seances, speaking beyond the grave, and ritual sacrifice into the mix.
It is 2008 in a well-off suburban area of Florida, and there’s a lot happening in the country, not the least of which is the possibility that America will elect its first African-American president
Scheer has created diverse set of characters, a quartet of high-achieving teens who find a respite from the pressures of school and society in the treehouse, where the crappy cell reception means they have to put down their phones and talk to each other.
The best drawn characters are those of Pipe (Gina Fonseca), the daughter of a staunch, well-off Republican and whose well-appointed “tree house” is the staging area for the production, and Zoom (Lisa Joyce), the virginal – we think – younger student who will become part of a scene of violence near the end that will leave you queasy.
We feel we know them just a tad better that the characters of color – Tatiana Isabel Gil as Kit, and Squeeze (Khloe Alice Lin), who must carry with her the weight of her father’s suicide
They have more than just a healthy obsession with Pablo Escobar, the late Columbian drug lord, and it involves ritual sacrifices in his name, and what may or may not happened with a classmate’s mysterious death.
There is an issue between two of the characters – a boyfriend left one to go and sleep with the other –and the quartet talk about a lot of issues, but the dialogue never seems to get too far below the surface.
There is an uncredited character – you might guess who who it will be – who comes on board after the most disturbing scene and lends a coda to the proceedings. I can’t say it really works mainly because the coda is kind of a nonsensical ramble that doesn’t really shed any light on what’s happened.
It’s possible that Scheer isn’t really interested in coherence at that point or any other point because the lives of her characters are incoherent and, by definition, don’t feature sharp, reasoned viewpoints.
Skilled young director Rebecca Bradshaw comes in with an already-impressive resume, here helping the cast to define their parts and giving the piece its best chance to succeed .
In a director’s note, she sees “Drug Lord” as a call for adults to step and listen to these teens, to support them with arts programs and mentors.
“We need to see them, laugh with them, and listen to them. Even when they are screaming. Especially when they are screaming.”
“Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” is billed as a workshop premiere so you might well see a different version down the line, and the characters and their relationships might well be a bit more fleshed out in a subsequent production.
The Off The Grid Theatre Company production of “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord.” Written by Alexis Scheer. Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw. Scenic design: Kristin Leoffler. Lighting design: Aja M. Jackson. Costume design: Rachel Padula. Sound design: Julian Crocamo. Violence/Intimacy choreographer: Margaret Clark. Production stage manager: Geena M. Forristall. At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Sept. 1. offthegridtheatre.com.