Dia de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") is much more than the Mexican Halloween. Celebrated in November, it's not about costumes and candy but about an acceptance of death as a factor of living and a familial remembrance of those who've passed on. Calaveras, an uneven trio of new plays that closed last weekend at Santa Ana's Teatro Indigena, lovingly celebrated the holiday—as well as the culture that spawned it—with lessons on death, love and loss.
The evening was hosted by colorful narrator Catrina Calavera, a talking skeleton dressed like a New Orleans brothel owner who flirts with the male patrons and gives a brief intro to each of the plays. First is Una Ofrenda/An Offering. Silviana Wood's story of an elderly woman setting up an altar to the memory of her dead daughter and patiently explaining the proceedings to her grandson as her daughter's spirit hovers about wastes too much time on wholly unnecessary exposition about altar traditions. That doesn't leave much time for plot or characterization, and while the actors (Ingrid Marquez, Bunny Siler and Ryan Dorman) acquit themselves admirably and the play is informative, a handout would have been better.
Similar problems plague Lloyd and La Muerta, written and directed by Pablo Eduardo Rivera. To save the life of his grandmother, a businessman offers to play a card game with Death. If he wins, she lives; if he loses, Death can take both of them. Rivera shouldn't have done double duty; the play suffers for it. His direction and writing are stodgy at best, with too many characters and not enough ideas.
The best of the evening followed intermission: Un Beso de Amor/A Kiss of Love, a tidy playlet suggestive of Federico García Lorca's enigmatic work. Directed and written by Sara Guerrero, this intriguing piece about a woman with an erotic devotion to Death was the best-looking of the evening: the intellectual power is matched by striking imagery that the other pieces don't even begin to approach.
The production values of the evening were bargain-basement, but with a few dollars, more Un Beso de Amour-style risks in the writing and some fresh directing, this could easily give the Hunger Artists' "Madame Guignol" series a run for its seasonal money.
For more information on Teatro Indigena's future programs, call (714) 569-6888.