On a chilly October night, ersatz mourners are ushered into a tiny space, carrying offerings for the deceased on Dia de los Muertos. After a short prologue from a mysterious host, the recently departed spring to life, telling a tale of revenge and jealousy, of unrequited love and the madness it can instill. Most importantly, they tell a tale of death, of both its eternal beauty and its boundless terror.
Force of Nature Productions’ second installment of Fallen Saints is a gorgeous exploration of the Day of the Dead, in contrast to last year’s grim portrayal of Victorian London. The fear used in the show is of a much more subtle variety this time around, not so much a visceral grand guignol as it is a masterclass in atmosphere, aided in no small part by the ambient lighting and sound design of Vincent Miller and Kristen Maxie.
While the main style of the show is a traditional theater in the round performance, Fallen Saints: Dia de los Muertos does incorporate limited, albeit creative immersive elements. As guests enter, they take on the roles of grief-stricken family members, offering rosaries and other tokens to the specters that will be our cast: Peppy, the effusive toymaker (Gloria Galvan); Antonio, the enigmatic musician (Michael Guthrie); Gabriella, the enchanting dancer (Anne Arreguin); Miguel, straight-laced and stoic (Brian Larios); and the centerpiece of the show, Maria (Stephanie Rojo), brand new to this realm and terrified of the spirits in front of her as they recount their history.
The actors’ portrayal of these crossed-over spirits imbues the show with a contagious energy, sometimes poignant and nuanced, other times appropriately campy, turning the performance into a ghastly telenovela. Their body language turns on a dime as their paths intertwine, their revenge plots and machinations leading them to the other side, where we’ve found them.
The scenes are fantastically bookended by the incomparable Storyteller (Tom Jones), who transports the audience to the village of San Juan de los Lagos, offering hopeful reminders that death is not the end, but simply the beginning of a new adventure.
Beautiful as the sentiment may be, fear still lives in the heart of the show. The magical recounting of Dia de los Muertos takes several dark turns, accompanied by creative lighting effects and ethereal sound design, before its 40-minute runtime is up, becoming a cautionary tale of the horrors of La Llorona.
Writers, directors and creators Sebastian Muñoz and Andy Shultz have crafted a touching tribute to Mexican folklore with Fallen Saints: Dia de los Muertos. Rather than trying to create a heart-pounding exercise in sheer horror, the stories on display are gorgeous in their subtlety, moving, yet effectively eerie when they need to be. Guests looking to explore the culture and the traditions of Day of the Dead would do well to pay Fallen Saints a visit, as few other productions have channeled the spirit of the season quite as effectively.
For more information on Fallen Saints and Force of Nature Productions, visit www.fonproductions.com