“Ghosts of Bogota” – Stray Cat Theatre

Theater Review – October 2, 2022


Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Center for the Arts Studio Theatre
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Stray Cat Theatre can always be counted on to avoid conventional theater, the kind other Valley companies like Arizona Theatre Company and The Phoenix Theatre Company do with lots of flair and panache.

Stray Cat’s season-opening production, “Ghosts of Bogota,” is no exception but for theatergoers accustomed to orthodox plays, this show is a challenge.  The play, by Diana Burbano, is full of intricate Hispanic traditions not widely understood by everyone and the play provides little insight to that cultural milieu.  Many theatergoers left the performance uttering opinions that the play was “weird” and that they “didn’t understand it” but during the performance others were laughing at less than obvious and unexplained humor.

What is “Ghosts of Bogota” about?  The very dark comedy focuses on three family members.  When their grandfather dies in their parents’ native Colombia, they come from America to comprehend their Latinx heritage and how it applies to his death.  Sister Lola is an outwardly vocal spokesperson, while brother Bruno yearns to provide context for their legacy.  Sister Sandy, a doctor, is confused about her family. In Colombia, the trio are met by grandmother Nena and Teresa, a guide of sorts. There’s Jesus who reminds the group of the religious aspects of their Colombian life, and Saul, an apparent representation of every man.

The trio discusses, tries to understand, and battles scary moments during their discoveries.  For people who do not understand these beliefs, there are few assists to explain the goings on.  There is a lot of Spanish dialogue but the performers are not expressive enough to aide non-speakers.  It’s never clearly explained why a Colombian death is so different than an American passing.

The production is riddled with problems not usually associated with theater.  The biggest issue is that many performers cannot be heard.  Director Alejandra Luna’s rudimentary staging is littered with basic roaming around the grandfather’s apartment which is filled with a lifetime of treasurers that aren’t really explored or explained.

Stray Cat is trying something new this season as the troupe’s usual directors and performers take a step back to allow new people to bring their unique approaches to the company’s productions.  This concept is interesting but the results must be understood by all audiences.  “Ghost of Bogota cries out for a lengthy program explanation of what the play intends and context for the Hispanic culture.  As is, “Ghosts of Bogota” is a challenge for theatergoers not familiar with this vibrant culture and the production provides little help to explain the many unknowns.

“Ghost of Bogota” runs through October 15.  To order tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre/Tempe Center for the Arts box office at 480-350-2822 or order tickets online at http://straycattheatre.org.

Grade: C+

5 Responses to ““Ghosts of Bogota” – Stray Cat Theatre”

  1. Patricia Torrilhon said:

    Oct 03, 22 at 12:00

    I attended this show and found the script poignant, funny and touching. Did someone need to validate why a Columbian funeral is different than an American one? Whose comparing, unless you are coming from a perspective that lacks the ability to simply immerse in the actual story (btw, the grandfather is NOT an everyman, he is a molester and abuser). The direction did not consist of actors “roaming” around the stage. They moved like anyone would. I feel that you missed the entire point and meaning of this play. The only thing I agreed with was that sometimes people were hard to hear. Otherwise, this review honestly sounds very tone deaf.

  2. Kaivan Mayelzadeh said:

    Oct 03, 22 at 16:31

    Fascinating review! I think it’s awesome that critics, artists, and audience members persevere in sustaining local theatre-making. It sounds like you were not the intended audience for this show. This is a perfectly normal phenomenon in the consumption of art and media. In fact, theatre-goers of color in Phoenix regularly navigate such a dynamic. Granted, they are often already well-versed in the skill of assimilating and participating in spaces of various cultures.

    What confuses me is that you offer this evaluation while simultaneously claiming that you are missing crucial cultural context that informs the playwright’s work and would allow you to understand the play. Surely you recognize that your blindspots would make it very difficult for you to provide a meaningful analysis of the show and the ways in which it may succeed or fail artistically?

    It seems that you square this circle by asserting that theatre “must be understood by all audiences.” Unfortunately, this has never been a requirement for theatre or any other art to be successful or good by any measure. I don’t think such a thing as a play that is “understood by all audiences” has ever existed, so to hold a piece to such a standard only serves, in my mind, to raise questions about the intentions of those who would call for such a thing. And I personally think it’s always great fun to track the instances in which someone makes this assertion and compare them to those in which they allow cultural specificity (or even misrepresentation) to slide.

    Personally, I tend to leave the critique of a work of art to those who are equipped for the questions and conversations that the work puts forth. Though I can at least admit that we are all entitled to our opinions, however informed they may be. Finally, the playwright’s name is Burbano, not Burbanois. She is Colombian.

    Thank you for continuting to support theatre in the Valley!

  3. Michael said:

    Oct 03, 22 at 16:45

    I don’t know if I saw a different play from what you saw. If we did see the same play then you obviously you did not pay attention to anything that happened on stage. Or you may have wanted everything spelled out to you with melodramatic acting. If there is to be a proper review for this production this is definitely not it.

  4. Yaya said:

    Oct 03, 22 at 18:34

    As a person who also went to go see the ghost of bogota, I don’t think we saw the same play.

  5. john idalis said:

    Oct 04, 22 at 06:41

    To add to everyone else’s comments, intergenerational trauma, as in the case in this play- sexual abuse- is, unfortunately, a problem that exists in every culture. Yes, this play is about a Colombian family but families all over the world know this issue all too well. To me, the obvious message of this play is that for too long, families have silenced victims to protect predators and this is a tradition that needs to be recognized and eradicated. I’m not sure how the references to Colombian culture somehow distracted you from what is a painfully obvious universal problem but hey… to each their own I guess.