Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is the nuanced and intelligent version of Mean Girls. It's a story of women and female friendships -- but gloriously twisted. Alexis Scheer, the playwright (read her interview for Strip It Down here), brilliantly crafts a story of girlhood, friendship, power, sex, love, and gore. Our Dear Dead Drug Lord shows women at the opposite end of the spectrum of female representation we’ve seen in all the other chick flicks. It shows we can be more than just gossip and burn books and boy talk--though that is a part of us--and allows women to be utterly and completely weird. This play shows women unfiltered: the conversations we fall into, the emotions we experience, the pain we endure, how we navigate friendships with each other, multitask, corrupt, fight, and scream.
The play centers around three high school friends: Pipe, Zoom, and Squeeze. They make up the Dead Leaders Club, in which they study deceased historical figures. At the beginning of Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, a new member of the DLC is introduced--whom the original members determine will be called Kit. The members are the DLC are normal girls, engrossed in regular teenage events (breakups, school projects, shit talking) with just a tad bit of quirkiness thrown in. Throughout the show, the DLC members conduct seances in order to connect with the dead leaders they are studying that month. Using a homemade Ouija board and specific rituals, the group is dedicated to connecting with the infamous Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. All deeply dedicated to resurrecting Escobar’s spirit, the young women come dangerously close to the edge of a reality they did not even realize they were approaching… or did they?
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is a call to action to the world: start taking us seriously. This play finally unmasks the intelligence within women--and how dangerous it proves to be when dismissed. The characters Alexis has created are angry. They are not perfect or posed or polished--they’re pissed. They’re pissed because they have not been listened to for their entire lives. Whether this is because they are women, or high schoolers, or both--no one has listened. This play explores the impact of ignoring the voices and anger of young women, why we all do it, and why none of us are taking it seriously.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is inherently meta-theatrical, thanks in part to the strength of the design elements. In particular, the set--exquisitely designed by Kristin Loeffler--epitomizes the childhood of a girl and the adolescence of a young woman. The play takes place in a wooden tree house, perched above the ground as tree houses tend to be, doused with intricately placed sparkly stickers, cut-outs from teen magazines (think Bop and M), pictures of American Girl Dolls, mini motivational posters (be beautiful, be kind, be you), and pretty much anything you would associate with growing up as a girl. Without a set of this caliber, the play would not have had the sturdy backbone of its desired tone and the reminder that this story is--to its deepest core--about women. Although Alexis’ characters are some of the most well-rounded, nuanced female characters I have ever encountered, Loeffler’s set was the clear top coat that sealed it all together.
The direction of the show, by Rebecca Bradshaw, is so seamless in its handling of a story that could otherwise become campy or unbelievable. Bradshaw’s direction allows the true spirit of teenage girls come to the surface, beautifully representing a period of life that has previously been beaten to death with stereotypes. Bradshaw’s directing is the clearest example of what it means to sincerely listen--to the script, the characters, the playwright, and the actors--and causes a sense of reflection and reconsideration of certain tendencies within the audience. Her direction of Our Dear Dead Drug Lord allows the story to slap you awake when you did not even realize you had fallen asleep.
As for talent, the characters of Zoom and Squeeze will have you doubled over in nostalgia for your high school best friends. Lisa Joyce (Zoom) and Khloe Alice Lin (Squeeze), have such impeccable comedic timing and contagious expressions--it is a gift from the artistic gods every time they appear on stage. Joyce and Lin play our friends. You know their characters because these characters have been, or are still, in your life. It is undeniable that their raw talent, mixed with Alexis’ alluring dialogue, creates two characters you feel you have known since the 6th grade.
It would not be a review of Our Dear Dead Drug Lord if I did not discuss the ending. After what seems to be the final blackout, there is a chilling laugh heard in the darkness… and in enters Pablo Escobar. Though some may take Escobar's cameo as “mansplaining” the play to the audience, I find that interpretation to be an easy excuse to get angry over the presence of a man in a play so perfectly made up with women. Escobar's presence in the play is in no way condescending, nor does it take away from the power the characters have over us, or their presence as women. Instead, Escobar's scene is an inside look at the inner workings of the brain of a dictator. Taking someone with such an evil, rotten, brilliant mind who no longer has any ulterior motives or reasons to hide or lie (death took any stake Escobar had in the game right out) and learning how they think, how they absorb power, and what they do with it. Alexis’ writing was like a 60 Minutes episode with Escobar--no lies, no gimmicks, just a look inside his brain.
There is also something to be said about a female playwright giving voice to a dead, male, dictator. Just as Escobar has no stake in the game, it can feel like us as women, especially artists, don’t have any either. As Our Dear Dead Drug Lord expertly shows, we do not take women, young women--our daughters--seriously. That being said, what do we have to lose? Why not write a meta play about seances, sex, cocaine, and anger? No one will listen. Escobar has to speak to the audience at the end and explain the play--because we have been programmed, down to a subconscious level, to listen to men when they speak. Throughout the entire play, at least I, didn’t really take the girl’s interest in dead leaders, the after life, and sacrifices seriously until it was too late. By the time I was actually listening, legitimate physical damage that had been done. Yet, once Escobar came out and insured us that all of what was happening was serious and real, I was overcome with the gravity of the situation.
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is giving us a chance to take our daughters, our sisters, women, seriously. We haven’t been paying attention, we haven’t been listening. It’s time we should no longer need the man to explain it for everyone--break the cycle, acknowledge the rage, take us seriously--because we are dead fucking serious.