It's been nearly a decade since the Wyly Theatre was turned into a wrestling ring (for Dallas Theater Center's The Elaborate Entry of Chad Deity in 2012), and the arrival of Lucha Teotl proves that that's been far too long.
The new original work by Prism Movement Theater, which is also part of this season's Elevator Project by the AT&T Performing Arts Center, immerses its audience in the storied history and tradition of lucha libre, or Mexican wrestling. It also brings bloodlust, rivalries, and even some chair-throwing into the ring — warning: come prepared to lose your voice.
Creators Chris Ramirez and Jeff Colangelo treat their subject with obvious loving respect. Ramirez, a member of the DTC Brierley Resident Acting Company, is a lifelong fan of the sport. Colangelo is a Dallas-based fight director and founding member of Prism, which specializes in stories told through the body instead of the voice.
Together they have created a 90-minute thrill ride that combines a simple but effective storyline with heart-pumping action, all executed with theatrical flawlessness by real local luchadors.
In fact, one of the performers behind the mask is Ramirez's own sister, Jennifer. She plays several different foils to Dylan Cantu's Huitzi, a young wrestler making his debut with the Lucha Teotl Alliance.
Of course, the young "hummingbird," who comes from the Sun family, completely whiffs his first match (against Bobby Garcia's Tezcatlipoca), and later teams up with Luis Palomino's Coyol, an experienced luchador from the Moon family.
In a move that surprises everyone, including quippy commentators Ana Armenta and Omar Padilla, Coyol doesn't take Huitzi's mask — what would be an insult against his family, which has been in the ring for generations. Instead, they team up, training first to defeat a team played by Guarav Bhaskir and Ramirez, and eventually face the intimidating Quetzalcoatl (Tatiana Gantt) and Xotol (Garcia).
Of course, that plan quickly goes awry but you won't find any spoilers here. You will, however, find praise for the startlingly real-looking fights, which were coordinated by Aski "The Mayan Warrior," and excellent projections introducing each player, courtesy of Safwan Chowdhury.
Jonah Gutierrez's lighting design floods the Wyly with atmosphere, and two roving camera operators throw the action up onto a big screen at the back of the theater.
Not only is the audience encouraged to jeer and cheer loudly, there are paper masks for sale in the lobby and materials to create your own signs before sitting down ("I need to pee" was a popular one the night I attended).
It may not be "traditional" theater, but this drama of honor is a refreshing approach unlike anything traditional theatergoers might normally experience. And it's a damn good night of fun.
Prism Movement Theater's Lucha Teotl runs at the Wyly Theatre through July 24.