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Review: When the Dead Cry

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2 stars

Phoenix Theatre, Frank and Katrina Basile Theatre. Writer-performer Esperanza Zendejas has a deeply moving story to tell about her attempt to rescue two John Doe corpses from a California morgue for a proper Mexican burial. Telling a story with moving elements, however, is not the same as moving storytelling. Dr. Zendejas (superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools in 1997 when her story begins) speaks more like a trial lawyer, stating her case with wringing hands, than a woman reliving a spiritual journey. Zendejas tells us she saw the shadows of spirits around her, but not much about how it felt to see them. We hear about troublesome morgue bureaucracy, but not about actual people who thwarted or helped Zendejas. The story's seven-year timeline is confusing and lacks incident, personality and all but cursory self-reflection. The Phoenix's 90-minute production infuses some color with interludes of live guitar, a backdrop mural of a Mexican home, and two wooden caskets carried onstage. Zendejas sings a few traditional Mexican songs, but only one is placed in meaningful context. And although her documentary-like video of the resulting Mexican funeral is touching, the audio has a terrible hum. While it is important that the Phoenix continue its tradition of bilingual theater — When the Dead Cry is presented in Spanish on Sundays — it should choose more fully imagined and executed works. Through Sept. 26; 635-2381, www.phoenixtheatre.org.

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