A Night with the Dead, produced by Frigid New York @ Horse Trade in association with Something from ABroad, has an intriguing story though it needs more time in a workshop setting.
Inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, the events of the play follow Catrina (Fernanda Hidalgo) in the aftermath of her grandmother’s death. She does not understand why a person’s life cannot be celebrated after death. She believes particularly that her grandmother, Elsa (Shamell Santana), would not want her death to be mourned. However, celebrating in any way during the mourning period is considered untraditional and disrespectful of death. When you disrespect La Santa Muerte (Naeem Mirza), he comes for you. Her Mom (Mayelyn Perdomo) and her friend Pedro (Bruno Fogagnoli) tell her she should not talk about death or invoke the spirit of death. In her search to discover what happened to Elsa, Catrina discovers the Land of the Dead by trusting the spirt, Thanatos (Arjuna Anand). She encounters La Santa Muerte in a way that no living person has ever encountered him before. They share a love for ancient Aztec poetry, but they have different opinions about how the dead should spend eternity.
Playwright Martha Lorena Preve Ayora has created an intriguing story, yet with some more development the piece will be stronger. While the characters seem rooted in Mexican and Aztec mythology, they are not quite as fleshed out as they could be. The character of Destino (played by Paloma de Vega) hovers around the story and her role in the events in unclear. It is difficult to tell if A Night with the Dead is a retelling of a mythological tale, or if it is an imagined tale about the origin of the holiday.
The traditional Mexican music in the piece is beautiful. Emilio Guzman plays the guitar for these moments. The rendition of La Llorna is captivating, however Paloma de Vega sings it with a seductive air about her. The subject matter of this song is definitely not seductive.
In general the actors do well and they have a strong sense of onstage chemistry, yet it was hard to follow some moments because they were not loud enough. Occasionally the stage pictures they created worked against them. Paloma de Vega, who serves as co-director costume and set designer and choreographer, delivers lovely costumes and choreography.
The show ends with a collection of entertaining and clever calaveras literarias, which are short satirical poems that criticize society and point out that in the end, we all die.
A Night with the Dead, Frigid New York @ Horse Trade, Something from ABroad, The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street. Closes October 29th.