Pollo Tropical yuca bites, divisive political opinions, and the revering of a drug kingpin — what could be more Miami?
In 2017, Alexis Scheer channeled her South Florida roots to write Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, a play about a gang of misguided Miami teens trying to resurrect Pablo Escobar. Zoetic Stage, a local theater company, is opening the play’s 305 debut on Thursday, May 5, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ Carnival Studio Theater.
“This is the Miami play that you need to see because it’s real, it’s honest, it’s in your face, and it’s now,” says Stuart Meltzer, artistic director of Zoetic Stage. “It’s also funny as fuck.”
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is the final production of Zoetic’s tenth-anniversary season — and the first since the pandemic.
The play centers on four high school girls who have a “Dead Leaders Club” meeting once a month in a backyard treehouse — and each brings their own background, traumas, and personality to the (as you’ll find out if you see it) unique plot.
A central element of the storyline is the girls’ creepy and satirical attempt to communicate with the spirit of cartel drug lord Pablo Escobar, a spin Scheer and Meltzer say is admittedly dark and potentially triggering.
Why Escobar? The easy answer: Scheer’s mother is a Colombian immigrant, and Escobar’s role as a looming figure in her family mythology piqued her interest.
“I’m the American-born daughter who didn’t have to deal with any of that,” Scheer explains, “but I’m still curious about it and wanted to kind of touch and play with that in a really subversive and shocking way.”
Scheer says she wrote the play in 2017 in reaction to Donald Trump’s election. At the time, she’d recently graduated with a musical theater degree from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and founded Off the Grid Theater Company.
“As a young woman, I felt very disenfranchised by what was happening in our country. And I was thinking a lot about everyone who was saying, ‘Oh, this is the pendulum swinging,'” she says. “And so I was trying to figure out how to respond to this political moment in our country without actually writing about Trump because we just had no perspective — it was just happening.”
“It’s not often that you get to see a play that is set in Miami with humor that is specific to Miamians.”
Through her company, Scheer produced the first production of Our Dear Dead Drug Lord in 2018. Gina Fonseca, the actress who plays Kit in Zoetic’s production, played Pipe (another character) in that first Boston workshop after they’d met in school and discovered they were both Miami natives.
But the game-changing moment for the play was when it was chosen as a selection for the Latinx Theater Commons. There, Scheer signed with an agent and sparked buzz among producers.
One offered to do an off-Broadway production in New York City as Scheer was heading into rehearsal for Off the Grid’s production. It ran at the WP Theater from September 2019 through January 2020. In his review, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley showered the show with praise, calling it a “highly entertaining, equally sobering little play.”
Despite the fact that it takes place in Miami, Zoetic’s production serves as Our Dear Dead Drug Lord‘s Florida and Miami premiere.
“I think it’s important that Miami and Miamians celebrate the artists that come from our own community,” Meltzer says. “It feels like that kind of special, sort of, home play. Now it’s being presented at the Arsht Center, which I believe is one of the jewels of Miami, and so that becomes even more exciting.”
“It’s set in 2008 and it really tries to capture what I remember of being a teenager in Miami and what it sounded like, what it felt like — the texture of it,” Scheer adds. “You know, it’s one thing to have it up in New York, and there are things that the New York audience finds funny. And I’m just excited for, you know, what are the things that Miami is going to respond to? And how are they going to see themselves in the play? That’s really fun.”
Spoiler alert: References to Ponce and Douglas roads and the ridiculousness of Floridians wearing Uggs in our so-called winter are likely on that list.
“It’s not often that you get to see a play that is set in Miami with humor that is specific to Miamians. I think it’s exciting to experience a play that speaks to you, speaks to our community,” says Fonseca, who is now based in New York City but is home for two months for the production. “And also, I mean, come see four badass young, talented, powerful women explore dark humour. It’s silly. It’s incredibly funny. It’s horrifying. It’s dark. It’s dynamic.”
Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, Thursday, May 5, through Sunday, May 22; at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $55 to $60.