Review: “Ghosts of Bogota” in San Rafael

A vacant downtown San Rafael storefront is being haunted by the Ghosts of Bogotá. They are characters in playwright Diana Burbano’s darkly comic autobiographical look at a group of siblings dealing with some disturbing family history. It’s AlterTheater Ensemble’s latest “pop-up theatre” and runs through Feb. 23.

Siblings Lola (Livia Gomes Demarchi), Sandy (Carla Pauli), and Bruno (Eduardo Soria) arrive at their late grandfather Saúl’s Bogotá apartment to arrange for his funeral. He is a man who will be mourned by no one, especially by the sisters who he sexually abused, but familial duty requires them to handle his interment.

The apartment is cold, stark, and haunted by its previous inhabitants. Soon the sisters are engaging with the spirits. Sandy deals with the ghost of Saúl (Tony Ortega), who is trapped in the apartment because he knows if he leaves, he’s destined for hell. Lola finds herself in conversation with her grandmother Nena (Leticia Duarte), challenging her to explain why she dealt with her husband’s physical abuse of her and sexual abuse of others. Her explanation is haunting in its own right.

Bruno is the odd man out. Born in the United States after his mother relocated there, he never knew his grandfather and cannot relate to him as anything but a doting distant relative.  This may explain Sandy’s antagonistic attitude towards Bruno and his care-free, pansexual lifestyle. How dare he find joy in something she can only relate to in terms of trauma and and pain?

Livia Gomes Demarchi, Carla Pauli, Eduardo Soria, Noe Flores

All of this unfolds under the watchful eye of Jesus (Noe Flores) who, when he’s not residing in a jar, is content to observe quietly. When he does speak, it is not in the Biblical language, or with the attitude, one would expect from the son of God.

Wickedly humorous at times, gut wrenching at others, it’s clearly Burbano’s attempt to exorcise her own ghosts. Director Alicia Coombes facilitates that exorcism with the help of a very strong cast. Pauli, Gomes Demarchi, and Soria feel like siblings and make that unspoken bond palpable. Duarte blends compassion with hard-bitten reality as the grandmother. Ortega may be menacingly one-note as the despicable grandfather, but that is how the sisters see him. Flores makes for a very unique Jesus. 

The storefront setting presents challenges, particularly with scene transitions, but the cold and emptiness works in its favor. As passers-by stopped to peer quietly through the windows, it was as if another group of ghosts had arrived. They should have come in.

‘Ghosts of Bogotá’ runs through February 23 at 1200 Fourth Street (at B Street), San Rafael. Wednesday, Feb. 12; 7:30pm; Friday – Saturday, 8:00pm; Sunday, 2pm. $15–$49. 415.454.2787. altertheater.org

Photos by David Allen

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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