Día de los Muertos Production at the Teatro Milagro
Looking for a truly psychedelic experience of fog, fluorescent paint, and imaginary creatures, the Spanish House sent a group to see ¡Alebrijes! at the Teatro Milagro. The show was the theater’s twenty-third Día de los Muertos production. The play focused both on the celebration of the holiday and the legend surrounding the creation of alebrijes, mythical papier-mâché or wood creatures made from amalgamations of real animals.
The play opened with a soon-to-be wed couple, Antonio and Alejandra, entering the boyfriend’s parents’ house late at night on Día de los Muertos. In order to please his more traditional mother, the couple had to sleep in separate rooms. For some reason, Alejandra was put in the room with their very large ofrenda (the audience) that included famous artists as well as family and friends. When she is alone, Pedro Linares, who has been dead for more than 25 years, sprints out of the audience. This produces a confusion of temporalities. Alejandra, who could previously speak no Spanish, found herself unwittingly speaking Spanish and transported back into historical Mexico City, right into Pedro Linares’ own story.
Pedro was a cartonero, someone who makes things out of papier-mâché. Pedro sold his creations to support himself, and his three animal companions Bartolome the cat, Florinda the duck, and Felipe the rooster. A few days before Día de los Muertos, Pedro fought with his brother, Manuel, who spent his remaining money on a train ride to see a psychic to understand Pedro’s future, and the future of Pedro’s art.
Manuel died in a train accident, sending Pedro into a downward spiral. In his descent, he began to bargain and literally dance with La Muerte in order to get his brother back. Thinking that giving a life for a life would save his brother, Manuel poisons himself in desperation.
Pedro, however, did not quite die. His face was half painted to resemble a skull, and the other half was human, but regardless he found himself somewhere within the realm of the dead. There, he met both Manuel and his animal friends – but distorted, in the afterlife, large and glowing in fluorescent costumes.
In the most enchanting part of the play, normal lights were traded for black lights to reveal the entire set and all of the other characters covered in fluorescent paint. The animals – or totemitos, as La Muerte called them, danced mesmerizingly around and eventually convinced Pedro to go back to the world of the living. But, as always, there was a price to pay when playing with death. Pedro had to leave his totemitos behind, where, according to La Muerte, they belong to guide the dead.
As he went back, ominous voices echoed throughout the theater and eventually blended to whisper “Alebrijes.”
Once back, Pedro, who had been unconscious for several days and missed Día de los Muertos, sets his accounts in order with the one he loves and runs off stage to begin crafting his colorful and improbable alebrijes.
This brings Alejandra back to the same present moment from which she left. Her fiancé returns with his mother to close out the play, and explain the tradition of lighting a candle for each of the dead. Then, all the actors came on stage to light electric candles and say the names of famous dead artists, recent victims of mass shootings, or those whom the patrons wanted to remember. Afterwards, the audience was invited to say the names of their lost ones and turn on their phone flashlights.
While offering the enthralling and often comedic tale of Pedro Linares, the play was much more than just a comment on death, but also about love, friendship, success, and artistic creation. Overall, ¡Alebrijes! was a resounding success.
However, in our discussion afterwards, it seemed as if Bartolome the twinkling-eyed cat stole the show from the grief-struck and the star-crossed lovers.