Enter the Goodman’s Owen Theatre these days and you’ll find the space utterly transformed. Where normally you would encounter a standard theatre setup instead is a massive Aztec calendar with a wrestling ring out front. This is the world of the fictional Lucha Teotl Alliance and the set for LUCHA TEOTL, currently running at the Goodman Theatre in partnership with the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance.
In the Lucha Teotl Alliance, or LTA, luchadores choose to represent one of the Aztec gods. After getting soundly beaten by a retiring veteran in his debut match, Huitzi, from the sun family, is rescued by Coyol, from the moon family, and an unlikely team forms. This relationship is the center of the story, as the characters’ personalities and ambitions jell or clash in different situations. Really, the storyline is a loose framework on which to hang a series of wrestling matches, which are so much fun to watch that it’s impossible to be bothered by the plot’s lack of complexity.
Wrestling and theatre, like Huitzi and Coyol, may seem like unlikely partners, but in truth they go together like macaroni and cheese. The luchadores’ dazzling costumes, big personalities, and dramatic monologues lend themselves well to a theatrical setting, one certainly dominated by spectacle. The audience gets in on the fun, too, with characters encouraging them to chant, cheer, or boo along with the action.
The physicality of the actors is breathtaking. The sheer endurance required to fight for so much of the ninety-minute performance is impressive, but the actors also demonstrate remarkable grace and skill in the fights themselves. Paloma “Starr” Vargas, who plays Coyol, is a standout, absolutely dominating the stage with both her physical prowess and her ample charisma. Joey Ibanez is a delightful Huitzi, bringing the character’s strong emotions to vivid life. Equally fun in a different way is Jean Claudio, who plays the clown-like El Referee and Victor Maraña, whose earnest charm as the Maestro de Ceremonia does tremendous work toward bringing the audience into the world of the play.
Of course, the world of LTA would be nowhere near as glamorous and immersive without the work of the design team. Luis “Aski” Palomino’s wrestling coordination and William Carlos Angulo’s choreography animate the story. Anna Louizos’ magnificent set design works in perfect coordination with lighting by Jason Lynch and projections by Mike Commendatore and Rasean Davonté Johnson to create a dazzling world rooted in Aztec culture. Costumes by Nicole Alvarez are a visual treat, elegantly merging the human form with the symbolism of the gods.
LUCHA TEOTL is, above all else, fun. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I enjoyed myself at a play as much as I did here. Nonstop action and larger-than-life characters make for a rip-roaring good time from start to finish. Whether you’re a veteran luchador fan or have never seen a match, now’s the perfect time to get to the Goodman for LUCHA TEOTL.
Dates: September 29 – October 29, 2023
Location: The Owen Theatre, The Goodman, 170 N Dearborn StreetTickets: $25 –$70. Available online at the Goodman Theatre’s website or by phone at 312-443-3800.
All photos by Liz Lauren.