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If the name Ghosts of Bogotá sounds unfamiliar to you, you're not alone. This new play is the work of Diana Burbano , a Colombian playwright whose piece was commissioned by the Bay Area company AlterTheater and subsequently won Actor's Theatre of Charlotte's nuVoices for a New Generation in 2019. ATC prides itself in producing the competition's winning piece in their following season. After nearly three years, ATC has produced Ghosts of Bogotá, and it is truly a visceral experience for the viewer.
Filled with vivid and anomalous imagery, Ghosts of Bogotá tells the story of three siblings' return to their country of origin upon their grandfather's death. At its core, this story is about Latinidad and the tangled relationship many immigrants have once they leave for America. In this tangle, Burbano has included experiences of womanhood, discrimination, violence, sexual abuse, familial bonds, religion, and artistry. It is an intense script, challenging ATC to find a unique voice to speak it.
On the way to their seats at the Hadley Theatre, audiences have a chance to view visual art pieces by Latinx artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner. Her use of decorative coloration and symbolism sets the stage for the event theatregoers are about to witness. The set presents itself as your typical box set, but it is charmingly decorated with the items that make a Hispanic home. A first-generation American myself, the knitted stage dressings, religious iconography, and assorted plants were a warm reminder of the representation this production provides. It should be said that the technical elements of ATC's Ghosts are absolutely stunning. The lighting design by Bill West-Davis helps bridge the script's unconventional storytelling and its onstage execution through electric shocks, ethereal comets, and nightclub flashes of color.
With as rich a text as Burbano provides, there are a multitude of visionary opportunities for the director and actor alike. The ensemble of this production was extremely varied in personality and energy. Teresa/Nena, the grandfather's final teenaged girlfriend and his first teenage wife, was played by Elizabeth Ruiz, whose portrayal of these two "different, but not" characters was consistently dedicated, wig changes and all. Her Nena reminded the audience of a grandmother's maternal love and frank honesty. Her earnest tenderness was a stark contrast to the irreverent character Jesus, the personification of a "creepy" bust of the religious figure that decorates the Colombian home. Neifert Enrique's Jesus was your classic comedic relief character, colored with streaks of flippancy and sass. Other characters were no exception. The grandfather, Saúl, played by Rick Taylor-Rivera, was the personification of crawling skin. Ivanna Osma as Sandy and Axel Garcia Frias as Bruno played the perfect opposites of Type A and B siblings; both were honest and true in their portrayals. Also, hats off to Iris DeWitt's Lola. Burbano certainly challenged the actor playing this role with rapid, sudden beat changes and a difficult weaving of internal dismay. DeWitt kept up with it all and managed to carry the performance to its culminating drunken speech at Saúl's funeral.
Ghosts of Bogotá at ATC is a must-see because of its representation of the Latinx community, beautiful technical production, and touching moments created by actors throughout the play. Diana Burbano's script knows exactly what it is, finding itself somewhere in magical realism, horror, comedy, camp, and drama. The ATC production is a little less sure at times, but, nevertheless, the show is a bittersweet experience for audiences that will inspire a visceral reaction to the revelations and realizations on stage.
Ghosts of Bogotá continues through Saturday, March 12. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.