Over the past six months, I’ve seen several articles about the growing popularity of Mexican folk-saint La Santa Muerta. She is not an official saint, and the Catholic Church does not approve of her. She is loved and prayed to mostly by the poor and disaffected. She also comes in handy when you need supernatural help for, well, activities that you can’t ask the “real” saints for.
The current show at the Unicorn, The Ghosts of Lote Bravo, introduces audiences to La Santa Muerte in a very confrontational manner; she will raise more than a few eyebrows.
The plot of the story is as real and miserable as you can get: a 15-year-old girl named Raquel in Juarez has disappeared in the night. Her devoutly Catholic mother, Juanda, desperate to find her, realizes that she will have to get involved in the darker underworld of the city in order to find out what happened. Not comfortable praying to the Virgin Mary for what she needs to accomplish, she reluctantly follows the advice of a co-worker and calls on the help of La Santa Muerte. She shows up, and interesting events ensue.
Now, if you want to just take it as a story about La Santa Muerte answering Juanda’s prayers, that’s fine. But this is the Unicorn Theatre we’re talking about. There are usually issues underneath the issues in these plays.
So you can also take it as play that’s not about La Santa Muerte answering Juanda’s prayers, and that’s fine, too.
At its core, the play really isn’t about La Santa Muerte. It’s about the misery that people endure, and the desperate lengths they will go to in order to endure it. They search for Truth, but then balk at the moment they are offered it. Pleas for help don’t work – even if they are offered to those who have the power to help.
The cast does not consist of Unicorn regulars; five of the actors are actually making their Unicorn debut with this show. But don’t be put off by this fact. The actors are well chosen, and are more than prepared to bare their souls (and sometimes their bodies) in order to tell this unique story. Rebecca Muñoz is amazing as Raquel, the teenage girl who feels pressured by her mother to make money for the family at any cost. She is well matched by Justin Barron, playing the teen gangster El Reloj, who simultaneously takes advantage of Raquel’s situation and falls in love with her. Vanessa A. Davis really brings the plight of Raquel’s mother to light – she has a tired, guilty desperation to her actions that made my heart ache to watch.
La Santa Muerte plays a key role in the show, and it’s such a unique character that it takes a certain type of actress to pull it off. Lucky for us, Meredith Wolfe is around. She is becoming one of my favorite actresses; I still remember her from several years ago, when she was in The Motherf**ker With the Hat. Wolfe plays La Santa Muerte with an ethereal, foul-mouthed grace, and she helps you to really understand the saint’s amoral foundation.
The Ghosts of Lote Bravo is a funny, heartbreaking, horrifying modern fable that uses a contemporary metaphor to illustrate real life problems of human trafficking, organized crime, and grinding poverty. People who are devoutly Catholic may struggle with this show. The ideas presented in the play will haunt you longer than the actual ghosts will.
(Note: due to the large amount of adult language, violence, and nudity, the show is recommended for people over the age of 18).
The Ghosts of Lote Bravo plays through May 8. For tickets, call 816-531-7529 or go to www.unicorntheatre.org.