Such is the troubled production of the original work “The Chupacabra Cantina,” created by the local activist and Latina performance troupe Las Meganenas, which recently finished performances. The play attempts to tackle a baffling number of discordant social issues while unfortunately illuminating none of them, attempting to embed them sneakily within a broadly-cast net of New Mexican culture and convention.
Where to begin? “The Chupacabra Cantina” is set in a bar in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, but none of that really matters. Nothing in the play really matters. There is no conflict, no tension, no plot and certainly no story. There is a lot that’s distressingly wrong about “The Chupacabra Cantina.” But the single biggest issue is simply the atrocious writing.
At the first level, the play is about Chicana women chatting casually in a bar, their topics of conversation light and New Mexican in flavor. Then the inordinate proselytizing begins, as they completely drop character to rant in an insultingly folksy manner about GMOs (that is, genetically modified organisms) with dialogue that could have been pulled directly from Wikipedia.
Then a straw man Fox News reporter arrives so that the barflies can monologue flatly about food, race, land grants and New Mexico history while trying to create some metaphor with the chupacabra sucking life or culture out of things, but the idea is never fully explored.
By the second act, farting nuns appear to repeat and extend the Wikipedia-fueled anti-GMO rants — which are interrupted for a totally random new character to deliver an inexplicable rant about Palestine, but still we return so that the nuns can have an awkwardly long dance party. Finally, in the last 20 minutes or so, another random new character, in the form of a magical homeless woman, talks to some children about corn being sacred and stuff. Then she strangely gets shot while offstage.
Still, nothing really happens. Yet “The Chupacabra Cantina” runs an egregious two and a half hours. Even if a play is sloppy to the point of being painful, at least it could be short.
Not in this case. From the “everything and the kitchen sink” writing to every single character needing to lazily exit one by one each and every time there’s a blackout. Even the bizarrely plentiful blackouts seem to lack any structural purpose at all — beyond the fact that sometimes plays tend to have them, so why not include a few?
In fact, no one involved in the project seems to understand why they’re there or what they’re doing. Nearly every design decision seems hastily made or just grossly unaddressed. A gigantic portion of the back wall of the stage is occupied by an unexplained image of a farm. But it’s not supposed to be a window since there is an awkward, tiny window right next to the image as well. Occasional TV commercials will play as audio through the speakers while actors sit politely, bored and doing nothing while waiting for them to finish.
There’s even an actor planted in the audience who disrupts the show, and then is shown out. But for what greater purpose? It just kind of happens, but for no real reason.
Most creative choices in this show are haphazard at best.
The actors stumble over lines they don’t seem to know while whole monologues are read aloud from sheets of paper held in their hands. Performances span from acceptable to bland to awful. Vivian Fernandez Geilin, however, plays some sort of out-of-place minstrel clown. Her outbursts are a thankful breath of fresh air from the rest of the production’s bored and dreary preaching. But still, she sticks out an extraordinary amount, mostly seeming like she’s from a different play entirely — more a member of an otherworldly peanut gallery than an actual person.
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“The Chupacabra Cantina” is such a disaster that it boggles the mind to consider. Under the guise of New Mexican colloquialism, Las Meganenas have chosen to beat their messages as bluntly as humanly possible on topics as far ranging as GMOs to Palestine. These subjects can certainly be discussed, especially if the performers are actual characters and not simply mouthpieces for bullet points.
The passion is certainly there for Las Meganenas. Messages will be heard more clearly when it’s one person writing about a few things, rather than five writing about 20.
Graham Gentz is a theater and film reviewer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.