While Halloween has mostly lost its meaning to a barrage of spider webs, haunted houses, and superhero and sexy-anything costumes, the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a day when abuelitos and ninos alike come together as a familia to turn the despair of loss into a happy reminder that each day is precious. Timed to Dia de Los Muertos, Milagro opens its 30th anniversary season with the world premiere of Corrido Calavera, a humorous, family-friendly journey through the afterlife that explores these very themes of family, love, and loss.

Written and directed by Lakin Valdez, son of the founder of LA's historic Chicano company Teatro Campesino, Corrido Calavera follows Amanda and Manuel as they travel through the different phases of the afterlife with a comic shaman, or nagual (Sarah Peters), as their guide. Through reenactions involving a chorus of skeletons (the play’s name means “running skeletons”), the couple’s history is slowly pieced together, from the first night they met to the day the couple’s car launched off a cliff, landing them in their worst nightmare: wanting a divorce while decomposing in the afterlife. But over the course of the journey, the two re-discover themselves and re-define what ‘till death do us part’ means in a balance of humor and tragedy, impeccably achieved by the talented actors Tricia Cstañeda-Gonzales and Enrique E. Andrade.

Corrido Calavera
Milagro Theater
Thru Nov 9

The play is primarily in English (I actually wanted more Spanish to go along with its classical music and talented bilingual cast). Valdez’s script, though quite fluid, stumbles in parts. Small moments, like repeatedly awkward two-minute skeleton dance routines, disrupt its flow. The ‘Tax Man’ and his corporate agenda to swindle a couple bucks out of Death with D, Inc, feels forced. And the ending, not to give away too much, is a tired “…and they lived happily ever after”—a rather ironic formula to follow for a play about death.

But overall, Corrido Calavera embodies the root ideas of community (and thereby community theater) inherent in the Day of the Dead, with its homemade costumes by Alissa Warren and beautiful but simple set designs by Megan Wilkerson. And the local community was in attendance, barely containing their eagerness as the lights dimmed and the skulls came out to play. Rather than losing us in Halloween’s ocean of consumerism, Corrido Calavera melds spirituality and humor to remove our masks so that we consider the love and the sacrifices we make navigating this world everyday—and possibly the one beyond. That is, rather than trying to scare you, Corrido Calavera just might make you a little less afraid.

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