Review: Our Dear Dead Drug Lord Gets Pulses Racing Without Having One of Its Own

Alexis Scheer’s play is now running at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.

Coral Peña, Lilian Rebelo, Ashley Brooke, and Samantha Miller star in Alexis Scheer’s in Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.
(© Craig Schwartz Photography)

Children shouldn’t play with dead things. But it’s a warning that four high school teens of a banished school club ignore in Alexis Scheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, which Center Theatre Group produced in association with IAMA Theatre Company at the Douglas. Defiant and more than a bit naïve, they dabble with the occult and commit a few atrocities in a play that provokes the audience but doesn’t deliver.

Over four separate Tuesdays throughout the fall, the members of the Dead Leaders Club meet in the treehouse of Pipe (Lilian Rebelo), a well-off Cuban American, to pay homage to their latest obsession: Pablo Escobar. Pipe, who looks like she modeled her looks on one of the Heathers, with her tennis skirt and tight headband, presides over the group. Her friends Zoom (Ashley Brooke) and Squeeze (Samantha Miller) bicker constantly.

Into the mix comes new student Kit (Coral Peña), who seems more worldly than the other three — and more prone to do things without fear of consequences. They use a Ouija board to name their new member, and recklessly commit bloodcurdling acts so that their séances will work. All of them have been traumatized by their past and their motivations aren’t always clear, even to each other. Despite the probability of serious consequences, the students delve deeper into powers they can neither understand nor control.

There are two plays colliding within Scheer’s script. One is a masterful vision of the American student. Our Dear Dead Drug Lord features themes of immaturity and moral malaise, so the teens here take shortcuts without comprehending the ramifications till it’s too late. They play-act at adulthood but don’t have fully formed mentalities to make healthy decisions.

Samantha Miller, Coral Peña, Lilian Rebelo, and Ashley Brooke appear in Alexis Scheer’s in Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.
(© Craig Schwartz Photography)

Crashing into that story are the components of a disparate second play involving the séance and its after-effects, where no one bats an eyelash at some graphic crimes, and spirits convince characters that this whole episode was about female empowerment. The script doesn’t go far enough. Yes, the shocking elements are graphic, but they’re not impactful because they don’t seem grounded in reality. The teens’ reactions and the consequences don’t match the scenario that the audience has witnessed.

Director Lindsay Allbaugh and the cast capture the essence of these young women, who often answer both in unison and over each other, battling to get their own points across. Rebelo conveys a typical type-A personality that makes Pipe so recognizable: the leader who bulldozes over everyone. Peña, as the new teen, revels in her character’s certainty of self, while also hinting at an undercurrent of feeling trapped by her past. Miller and Brooke’s chemistry reflects a deep closeness, the kind of symbiosis that twins often have.

François-Pierre Couture’s dazzling set — a treehouse littered with decorations, old photos on the walls, and knick-knacks — has a lived-in quality that represents years of club meetings and sleepovers and séances. Elena Flores varies the young women’s school-uniform costumes to provide a glimpse into each of their personalities.

But the characters aren’t enough to save this play in the end, which has a grotesque conclusion that doesn’t satisfy, or clarify what came before. Though it starts with potential, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord ultimately gives up the ghost.

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Our Dear Dead Drug Lord

Closed: September 17, 2023