The new show, which debuted at the Goodman Theater and was developed by Prism Movement Theater in Dallas, centers on lucha libre, the wildly popular form of wrestling that ranks second only to football in Mexico’s professional sports hierarchy.
Most games about athletic events struggle to portray real sport convincingly, for obvious reasons, and so are forced to spend their playing time in locker rooms, offices, corridors and corners of stadiums.
“Lucha Teotl,” written and directed by Christopher Llewyn Ramirez and Jeff Colangelo, hits the stage. Masked in accordance with the tradition in the piece, the actor-wrestlers strike each other with striking intensity; it’s a much-repeated action, intensified by the authentic sprung floor wrestling ring that Goodman built inside the Owen Theatre.
You hear the kick, then the referee hits the ground and you hear that. You also get all the personal titillating videos that fit the genre, which is a form of entertainment based on melodramatic characters in which the hero and villain improvise towards a predetermined outcome.
Kudos to the show for delivering the full blown experience. But this begs the question of whether you want the experience.
I find wrestling attractive. As a kid, I occasionally went to professional wrestling and also watched lucha libre..
I’d also like to add the caveat that Goodman had the misfortune of opening this show on Monday night at a very sad geopolitical moment – so much so that for me, my mind was filled with how much we need the healing power of theatre, only to cast myself, theatrically, on a character who looked like he’d broken someone else’s leg I found it at a show with excited audiences cheering and booing. It’s not Goodman’s fault, and critics shouldn’t bring this stuff to the theater. Still.
I have no problem with the basic concept. Ya I have It has long been thought that regional theaters should offer more popular entertainment that appeals to a wider audience. Chicago is full of people with ties to Mexico who enjoy the traditions of lucha libre; Opening Goodman’s doors to everyone is an important statement, and diversity should not mean only academically focused games, as it often does.
But the aptly named “Lucha Teotl” is a little too in love with lucha libre, circulating fancams and all, to be able to zoom out just enough to put it all in adequate artistic context. Here we see a complete recreation of the form, which raises another question: Why don’t we go and see the real thing? (You can at Cicero Stadium on October 22; impactwrestling.com).
Towards the end of the 90 minutes, the characters who are fully engaged suddenly start talking about the problems in the form, and there is talk of remaining loyal to the ancestors and the hope of reconciliation. You are right. But it is not yet an intertwined theme.
The series hasn’t decided how committed it wants to be to its overall narrative; It’s tough because lucha libre relies on successive rounds of competitors, with contests hyped, played out, and then quickly won or lost with a pin to the ground. It is difficult to create a bow from this. And since there’s so much going on here, it also includes the rightmost dial and the show commentators (Ramón Camin and Rinska Carrasco) want the audience to be excited so much that it’s hard for the show to reach any kind of climax. All of this, I think, could have been achieved with more subtle and varied attention to the theatrical possibilities of the piece, and with less concern about imitating the wrestling event itself. And with less video.
However, if you enjoy watching real lucha libre, I think you will be impressed by Natalia Christabelle, Luis “Aski” Palomino, and Paloma “Starr” Vargas, they are all real. Molly Hernández and Jean Claudio, excellent performers with circus talents, are also there. Claudio’s El Hakem is a funny, charming and, interestingly enough, very touching presence. There are great possibilities.
Filled with Maestro de Ceremonia Víctor Maraña, “Lucha Teotl” brings wrestling to Goodman, and believably so. We are in a theater now. What do these artists really want to do here?
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
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Review: “Lucha Teotl” (2.5 stars)
When: Until October 29
Where: Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Working time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Tickets: $20-$70 at 312-443-3825 and goodmantheatre.org