In Diana Burbano’s award-winning play, “Ghosts of Bogotá,” three siblings return to their home in South America after their grandfather’s death. It is soon clear that each sibling carries a great weight of family history, and it is not long before we learn that Grandpa was something of a monster, who molested both granddaughters and beat his grandson. They are not happy to be here.
This is the setup for a fairly conventional family drama along predictable lines: revelation of secrets, tearful confrontations, determined faces set towards a brighter future, and so forth. It is the sort of thing that many audiences lap up, but it is unlikely to surprise.
But Diana Burbano delightfully upends our expectations, avoiding the pitfalls of convention, by incorporating the techniques of magic realism, a wicked dry wit, and metaphysical speculation, while remaining in touch with the disturbing actualities of her story.
When the fondly bickering siblings arrive, we know that there is something odd about this place, as the ghost of Jesus (yes, Christ himself) snores in the corner before lurking invisibly behind a couch to watch and silently comment upon the action. His presence is signaled to the siblings by a particularly disturbing artifact of folk art: a head of Christ, crowned with thorns and bloody, imprisoned in a bottle. The horrified, yet fascinated, reactions to this oddity are both funny and quite realistic. Less realistic, but certainly funny, is Noe Flores’s goofy, petulant, yet compassionate Jesus who becomes less silent as the evening descends and ghosts arise.
The three siblings are all interesting and well-characterized. Along with the flamboyant Lola (Liva Gomes), there is a hipster brother, Bruno (Eduardo Soria), and the relatively stable Sandy (Carla Pauli). As the other non-ghost, Linda Girón does very well as the Spanish-speaking Teresa, communicating clearly with no language barrier getting in the way of the emotional content.
As Saúl, the ghost of the grandfather, Tony Ortega provides a nuanced characterization that goes beyond mere brutality.
The story’s movement towards redemption is predictable, but the complex, well-realized characters, bilingual script, and the incorporation of the supernatural along with great humor make this play something quite special.
The straightforward designs of Christine L. Plowright (props) and Adriana Gutierrez (costumes) serve the play well, and the very appealing artwork by Stephanie Jucker and Barbara Poole adds to the visual impact.
“Ghosts of Bogotá” continues at 1200 Fourth Street (at B Street), a storefront in San Rafael, through February 23rd.
Rating: ***1/2 (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Ghosts of Bogotá”, a world premiere by Diana Burbano. Presented by Alter Theater. Director: Alicia Coombes. Dramaturg: Jeanette Harrison. Props: Christine L. Plowright. Sound Designer: Gerry Grosz. Costume Designer: Adriana Gutierrez.
Teresa: Linda Girón. Sandy: Carla Pauli. Lola: Liva Gomes Demarchi. Bruno: Eduardo Soria. Nena: Leticia Duarte. Saúl: Tony Ortega. Jesus: Noe Flores.