Lessons Can Be Learned from the Theatrical Version of Lucha Libre Style Wrestling | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

Paloma “Starr” Vargas in Lucha Teotl at the Goodman Theatre
Credit: Liz Lauren

Goodman Theatre’s “Lucha Teotl” puts a fresh new spin on a time-honored tradition with an exhilarating stage show.

The experienced was described as the, “perfect backdrop for the high drama and rich cultural history of lucha libre.”

It immediately becomes apparent that this play will differ from any other theater-going experience as you create signs in the lobby on the way in. Then, newcomers and enthusiasts step into the familiar confines of a wrestling venue as the emcee, Víctor Maraña, and the accompanying referee, Jean Claudio, welcome the audience to a celebration of lucha libre.

With so much wrestling readily available to diehard and casual fans, it’s easy to find the style that fits your preference. However, creators Christopher Llewyn Ramirez and Jeff Colangelo successfully blended the episodic aspect of televised pro wrestling and its distinctive live atmosphere with the pacing and storytelling conventions of a theatrical production.

The collaborative effort from the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Goodman Theatre is a unique, interactive excursion. It’s an avant-garde approach to a genre that is often bereft of new ideas and a simultaneous reminder of how extraordinary the sport can be.

Something Old and Something New

“Lucha Teotl” follows the story of a plucky, third-generation wrestler named Huitzi and his rival/mentor Coyol. The 90-minute adventure plays out across several episodes of the fictional promotion LTA, with the ever-present Aztec calendar counting down the days.

As stated earlier, this bilingual show is an excellent tribute to the rich culture of Mexican wrestling. Historically, lucha libre defines its protagonists and antagonists as the técnicos (the faces) and the rudos (the heels).

Joey Ibanez and Paloma "Starr" Vargas in Lucha Teotl at the Goodman Theatre

Joey Ibanez and Paloma “Starr” Vargas in Lucha Teotl at the Goodman Theatre
Credit: Liz Lauren

Técnicos are crowd-pleasing high-flyers who follow the rules, and rudos break them and openly mock the audience. This well-established dynamic sets up the weekly matches and effectively introduces new fans to this style of wrestling. Conversely, these small details ensure longtime fans of the sport that it isn’t merely a backdrop in this story.

To that end, the in-ring performances never felt like an afterthought or a plot device. The matches had the same infectious energy I would expect from a local independent event.

Theatre may seem like an unorthodox place for a wrestling ring, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the pageantry and high drama of the genre fit well. At its core, the sport is really about characters and stories, so it was easy for onlookers to get swept up into the action and cheer or boo until their heart was content.

You won’t find another opportunity to get as loud as you want and wave a sign for your favorite cast member at a stage play. The crowd isn’t just encouraged to interact, they’re part of the show.

Aztec mythology is also prominent throughout the play. All the wrestlers represent an Aztec god, the set is modeled after a step pyramid, and the show seemingly ends with the New Fire ceremony and a passing of the torch moment.

Luchadors are revered all over the world, but promotions like CMLL and AAA are still niche. It’s always cool to see masked wrestlers gain exposure with bigger companies like WWE, AEW, Impact, or New Japan. However, it was refreshing to see Latinos tell their story their way in a space that could create more interest in a style of wrestling that isn’t as accessible to mainstream viewers.

A theatrical rendition isn’t exactly convention, but this show perfectly summarized the two camps in lucha libre and kept the audience engaged. Wrestling has been around for so long, and it can still evolve into opportunities like this to highlight a different culture.

Credit: Liz Lauren

A Much-Needed Change of Pace

Although “Lucha Teotl” was a regional production, the industry could use more creative approaches like it. Chicago is known for its loyal and vocal wrestling fans, so it was a natural fit to see the sport inhabit the city’s theater district in front of a mixed crowd.

There is no other form of entertainment like it, and LTA captured the crowd participation that hooked many avid viewers. There is always so much talk about how to reach lapsed or casual fans, but the appeal of pro wrestling is surprisingly simple sometimes.

If a few people walked away from Goodman Theatre with a new appreciation or renewed interest, that’s a win. Frankly, the industry needs more attempts to present wrestling as a versatile art form on different stages outside of the norm for this reason.

Even more, marginalized voices need more opportunities like this to create positive representation and tell new stories. Incremental changes and new approaches could make a huge difference for some performers and viewers who didn’t think they belonged in this space.

There are many high-profile Mexican wrestlers in the United States and acts like LWO or LFI are a step in the right direction. Still, it would be more significant if more of them were allowed to express themselves more often and bring their culture to the forefront.

It’s such a crowded market at the moment, but there is still nothing like “Lucha Teotl.” The big three companies should take note of what worked, but it’s also a great sign for creators with a different vision of the genre.

Wrestling doesn’t have to be a rigid outlet for a very specific audience. It can be WWE’s brand of sports entertainment or more of a combat sport, but it can also be a dramatic work of art fit for Broadway.

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