With the soul of the people of Puerto Rico as its loving motivation, the main theme of Mara Vélez Meléndez’ dazzling, groundbreaking piece Notes on Killing Seven Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Board Members is colonialism. In the case of Vélez Meléndez’ play, it’s not just the Dictionary.com definition of colonialism– “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country”– that is explored. Via historical insight, comedy, drama, and pageantry, Notes on Killing also explores the long-engrained phenomenon of colonialism over LGBTQ individuals– specifically, through the cases of the play’s two characters, which fate has seemingly brought together. Notes on Killing is eye-openingly educational, fiercely rebellious in its structure, and more relevant in 2022 than ever. That said, the show is also highly entertaining, offering as much riotous comedy and wondrous spectacle as it does long-lasting insight.
The first of the two characters we meet are Lolita (Christine Carmela Herrero), a no-nonsense transwoman who introduces herself to the audience at the start of the piece. We learn that her father was a staunch advocate for Puerto Rican independence. Now living in New York City, Lolita is on an ambitious mission: To decolonize Puerto Rico from the wrath of U.S. imperialism. Lolita has a specific target in mind: The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), a federal law enacted in 2016 which was ostensibly created to combat the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis. This included a “Fiscal Control Board” which was not elected by the Puerto Rican people themselves. Since 2016, many have theorized that the Act has done little more than to ensure prolonged colonial status on the island, as well as to foster the same economic problems that presumably motivated PROMESA in the first place. True to the play’s title, our Lolita finds herself at the swanky Wall Street offices of PROMESA, “pistola” in hand and ready to use it. She is discovered by a highly animated office worker (Samora La Perdida), who describes themself as “a Nuyorican from the Bronx with limited Spanish”. From the beginning, La Perdida establishes themself as an actor with excellent comedic timing; the audience is promised that there’s far more spark underneath that suit than meets the eye. That promise is fulfilled, for this character reveals early on that their true passion is… the art of drag. Surely enough, the first of the play’s fantasy sequences involve Board member Andrew Biggs becoming “Andrea Baggs”, with a cotton candy colored wig and wardrobe to match. (The British accent is no doubt a symbolic “wink” to Great Britian’s historical role in worldwide colonialism, which the character of Andrea seems to take about as seriously as a day of shopping.) This spicy performance is just the beginning, however: The audience is treated to masc and fem drag versions of PROMESA’s Board members, with fantastic costumes and wigs accessorized by our favorite pop tunes. (In a bold move, the Board members’ real names and VERY telling real biographies are used, although you can bet that their “real life” personas could never be as fabulous as their fantasy counterparts!) As Lolita and the unnamed receptionist form an idiosyncratic bond, Lolita grapples with just HOW to fulfill her mission. Or should she just walk away? She engages with all the fantasized versions of Puerto Rico’s self-proclaimed power players and even talks to G*d at one point, who has seemingly given up some of Their power thanks to free will. Many issues come up in Notes on Killing, including but by no means limited to economic opportunism, religion, Puerto Rican statehood, and gender identity. References to “Transricans” and “Diasporicans” are made. I’m going to be bold enough to say that Mara Vélez Meléndez’ Notes on Killing, in fact, reveals more about the heart and soul of Puerto Rican people than a years’ worth of news articles– which is, unfortunately, usually the only way many mainland Americans know anything about the island. The receptionist also comes to their own personal revolution of sorts by the conclusion of Notes on Killing, reinforcing one of the statements made in Vélez Meléndez’ script: “The journey to decolonization starts with YOU!”
Samora La Perdida is a gifted comedian and drag artist. This may be a two-character play, but with a literal rainbow of drag personas, La Perdida is an ensemble cast in themself. Now, more about those fabulous ensembles La Perdida gets to wear: In addition to being Director, David Mendizábal is also credited as Costume Designer; they have formerly designed for drag superstar BeBe Zahara Benet . With meticulous attention to detail, the costumes are no less than spectacular, with each piece seemingly outdoing the previous one. In the more serious role of Lolita, Christine Carmela Herrero expertly balances the play’s weighty themes (of which, as mentioned before, there are many) with the over-the-top moments (of which, as also mentioned before, there are many). The two actors could not be more perfectly matched.
In addition to the cast and to the creative directorial touches by Mendizábal, special kudos must be given to the lighting by Kate McGee. The clean, sharp lighting, which occasionally bathes the stage in different colors to match the scenes, gives the production an “HD” look and greatly enhances the actors’ very expressive features.
Defying both gender and genre, Notes on Killing Seven Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Board Members may best be described as a drag fantasia on serious cultural, economic, and political themes. As a glittery fantasy and a clear-eyed reality, it succeeds as both.
Soho Rep, in partnership with The Sol Project presents Mara Vélez Meléndez’ Notes on Killing Seven Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Board Members. The piece is directed by David Mendizábal and continues through June 19 at Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, New York City. Tickets are $35 with 99 cent Sundays on June 5 and 12. Visit www.sohorep.org or call 646-586-8982 for tickets.
(Photos by Julieta Cervante.)