Wrestling is inherently theatrical, as anyone who saw Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity in its world premiere at Victory Gardens in 2009 can attest. But that play used the background of pro wrestling to tell an out-of-the-ring story about racial identity and geopolitics. There was plenty of wrestling onstage, but it wasn’t a full- on wrestling match. LUCHA TEOTL—opening at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago September 29 and running through October 29—is a whole different ball game.
Created originally for Dallas’ Prism Movement Theater, the show comes to Chicago in a coproduction with the Goodman and the annual Destinos Festival, produced by the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance. Co-written and co- directed by actor Christopher Llewyn Ramirez and Prism artistic director, Jeff Colangelo, it combines the high-flying, high-octane physicality of a lucha libre—the freestyle, masked wrestling deemed part of the “intangible cultural heritage” of Mexico City—with epic legends from Aztec mythology.
In 2018, Prism presented Animal vs. Machine, a show about women’s MMA (mixed martial arts). Taken with how excited audiences got watching the show, Colangelo contacted Ramirez. “He said, ‘I’ve got this crazy idea of doing a lucha libre play where all the characters are Aztec gods,’” relates Ramirez. Ramirez, who describes himself as “Dallas’s pro wrestling guru in the theatre world—I live it, I breathe it, it is my life,” was immediately on board.
“One of the reasons we created the show was that we wanted to showcase that professional wrestling is an art form and it can be seen as high art, and not necessarily low art,” says Ramirez. “From its inception, we asked, ‘What happens if we create the storytelling world of professional wrestling and quite literally put it inside of a theatre to show people this is theatre, and it’s movement theatre?’ That’s why we say this is the very first pro wrestling play. We use pro wrestling techniques to tell the story.”
Elaborating on their concept, Ramirez adds, “We are offering up something much closer to what an Elizabethan audience would get. When you come see LUCHA TEOTL, you can expect something much closer to what the groundlings experienced than watching a play in Chicago on a Saturday night. We often forget that theatre’s roots lie in rowdy, raucous, party-like environments, with grand storytelling and gestures.”
Colangelo likens the skills of the wrestlers—luchadores—to those of circus artists. “There’s a really beautiful physical style of performance that comes with this. To say that they aren’t necessarily actors isn’t exactly fair. These are folks who are uniquely suited to a particular style of craft. They are well suited to working a crowd and building that kind of energy.”
Mounting the show in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre means that the creators’ vision can be fully realized. Set designer Anna Louizos says what audiences can expect at the Goodman, in addition to a full-size standard wrestling ring, is a “baroque version of Aztec architecture,” which will include a representation of the Aztec calendar.
There will be a ramp that takes the performers to the ring, with the audience seated on three sides. “There will be a buffer zone around, so if the wrestlers jump out of the ring or fall out of the ring, they won’t hit the audience,” says Louizos. Based on their experiences with the Dallas production, Ramirez hopes that LUCHA TEOTL will help to grow audiences for both lucha libre and the Goodman.
“The theater patrons are getting introduced to a new art form and could then maybe go support those local professional wrestlers, and the wrestling fans can come to the Goodman and think, ‘This is a pretty cool place.’ We want to bring in new patrons, which we desperately need in the theatre. Sixty-nine percent of our audience in Dallas were people 18–34. Fifty percent were Latino. If that’s the audience we get at the Goodman, the sky’s the limit.”