In his potent new play for Colectivo el Pozo, Chicago playwright Raúl Dorantes shows a knack for extracting a kind of ironic mythic resonance from thorny cultural narratives about immigration, creating a destabilizing, impish, mystifying 70 minutes. In this magical, menacing world, the gods of nearly every immigrant group die on their journey to America. The lone exception is the ancient Mesoamerican bat god Camazotz—a blood-feeding, cave-dwelling creature who plays a particularly frightening role in the Kiche creation saga Popol Vuh—who’s arrived in Chicago undocumented. Flitting among the shadows of night and showing extraordinary skill as a restaurant dishwasher, he keeps appearing when street violence erupts, licking bloody wounds in what may be moments of opportune feeding or magnanimous healing. An allegedly renowned journalist has assembled an “expert panel” (a criminologist, an archaeologist, and a chef) to help the audience understand the creature’s unaccountable appearance in Chicago, although it quickly becomes clear everyone projects onto Camazotz whatever they most need to see.
It’s a heady mix, and like the title character, the play seems to shapeshift at the drop of a hat, as the panelists rarely pursue linear thoughts, regularly falling in and out of reveries, swoons, flashbacks, and emotional outbursts. While the swirling structure makes it difficult for momentum to develop, a problem exacerbated by performers who too often seem adrift in a sea of unmoored metaphors, the overall effect is intoxicating. The god’s ultimate manifestation is a crafty, satisfying disappointment. v