By Peter Thomas Ricci
There is much to admire about “LUCHA TEOTL,” the new Goodman Theatre production about luchadores, the famous masked wrestlers in Mexico: Prior to the performance, the phenomenal troupe Aztec Dance Chicago performed historic dance/percussion numbers; Anna Louizos’ remarkable set design transforms the stage into a professional-grade wrestling ring, with a giant Aztec pyramid in the background; Nicole Alvarez’s costumes are model of authenticity, with flashy colors and graphics; the wrestling coordination by Luis “Aski” Palomino and choreography by William Carls Angulo is very fun to behold, with the appropriate amount of body slams and ring throws one would expect from a professional wrestling match; and all the theatergoers are encouraged to chant, boo, and create signs with fun messages scrawled upon them.
Despite all those positive, though, a question beckons – why, in the end, is “LUCHA TEOTL” such an underwhelming experience?
The main reason may be that for all the obvious love and energy that writers/directors Christopher Llewyn Ramirez and Jeff Colangelo invested in the production, “LUCHA” ultimately lacks compelling characters and narrative. In our 90-minute experience with young wrestler Huitzi (played by an energetic Joey Ibanez) and his frenemy mentor Coyol (Paloma “Starr” Vargas), the action is kept squarely in the ring – we learn nothing of the wrestlers’ lives outside the space.
It’s an understandable decision. By limiting the action to the ring, the production effectively recreates the experience of a professional wrestling match, albeit with Aztec mythology thrown in; however, that does not leave the audience with enough depth for a rewarding theatrical experience. Ultimately, our understandings of Huitzi and Coyol are shallow – we only see them as caricatures in the ring, not three-dimensional individuals with lives inside (and outside) the ring.
Moreover, by offering characters of such lagging depth, the impressive choreography – which is as physical and daring as any dance troupe – fails to have as much resonance as the creative team strives to achieve. We care about such actions when we connect with the characters; heck, I can recall my grade school years of watching WWE, and the dread I experienced when my favorite wrestlers suffered humiliating defeats; “LUCHA,” for all the efforts of its team and cast, cannot recreate that urgency.
As with all Goodman productions, the experience is a fun and eminently watchable one; but in the end, it just doesn’t sing.