Fallen Saints: Dia De Los Muertos begins cleverly enough. The audience is cast as family members visiting loved ones on the Day of the Dead. There is no stage in the small theatre space: as a quintet of dead souls awaken to relay their tragic story, the action takes place in the "cemetery" in the center of the room, with the audience sitting or standing on the periphery, with designated members occasionally stepping forward to make an offering.
Unfortunately, the story that follows suffers from muddled exposition. The five souls appear to be trapped in a kind of limbo, forced to relive the events of their lives once a year. Four of them blame the fifth for their condition, but exactly how and why they are bound to her is not clear, and the varying levels of complicity and guilt that eventually emerge never clarify the issue. Complicating matters, the object of their ire, a beautiful young woman, has forgotten what she did to cause this situation.
Questions abound: How many years have these souls been trapped? What makes this year special, so that the central character's memory will finally return? And why did she forget in the first place? The last one at least has an answer: the memory loss is a plot device; in a sense, it is the plot - seeing her remember what she did. The revelation explains her damnation, but confusingly her fellow lost souls are not her true victims - probably because if we saw the souls who should be tormenting her, the mystery of the lady's identity would be revealed too soon.
Like Halloween 2016's incarnation of Fallen Saints, this year's Dia De Los Muertos tells the story of a legendary figure without ever naming the character out loud, leaving the audience to come to the realization on their own. In this case, unfortunately, the gambit forces the most interesting aspects of the story off-stage, while the narrative focuses on the melodrama between the five major players. Consequently, instead of a horror story, the play feels like an over-the-top soap opera with some dodgy story points. (Among others, we're told that the leading lady could have any man she wanted, but the one she picks rejects her because of her situation - eventually revealed to be two out-of-wedlock children. Really? Only one man in this small, God-fearing Mexican village has a problem with this? All the others - including the one who professes to love her - are totally oblivious, never even mentioning it?)
The staging of Fallen Saints: Dia De Los Muertos - including eerie lighting, songs, dance, and even puppetry - go a certain amount of the way toward creating a theatrical "reality" in which the hyper-charged histrionics make a kind of sense, but for us it was a bridge too far. We never empathized with these characters, who pretty much have only themselves to blame for their predicaments, nor did we find them compelling enough to be interesting if not sympathetic. We got a little bit of a kick out of sensing where the story was heading with the revelation of its character's identity, but the misguided effort to maintain the lead character's mystery robs the play of its greatest potential. In the end we would have preferred a straight-up telling of her legend, without other characters getting in the way. This Hembra Lloroso deserves to be the lead, not one-fifth of an ensemble.
Fallen Saints: Dia De Los Muertos concludes with performances at 8pm, 9pm & 10pm on Friday & Saturday, October 27 & 28. Generation DCD Studio is located at 1001 W. Olive Avenue in Burbank. The website for the event is: fonproductions.com.