Those looking for a Valentine's Day gift for their sweetie may want to move beyond flowers and chocolates and IOUs to something more adventurous: Mexican wrestling and burlesque. The latest run of the variety show "Lucha Va Voom" performs tonight in downtown Los Angeles. Caitlan Carroll recently went ringside.
[Sound of revving engines]
Caitlan Carroll: The deep rumble of low riders and tricked-out Mini Coopers grabs at you like a siren's call. Mexican wrestlers, or "luchadors," step out of their cars in casual wear, hidden behind their wild masks, ready for a night of pinning, preening, and partying. Welcome to the Mayan Theatre and Lucha Va Voom!
[Announcer yells "Lucha!" Crowd answers "Va Voom!"]
Fifi La Poubelle: People never seem to understand what a magical combination it is. But if you're going to sum it up, you're going to say it's Mexican wrestling, burlesque, and comedy, and you just have to see it yourself.
Carroll: That's Fifi La Poubelle. She and her twin sister wrestle as the Poubelle Twins in the "Lucha Va Voom" variety show. A couple times a year, "Lucha Va Voom" takes over the Mayan Theatre on Hill Street in downtown L.A. – and it turns it into a ring for wrestling and a stage for striptease. Tonight, the Poubelle Twins are dressed as sexy nurses for a fight with a team of mean doctors. Sound weird? Here's show producer Liz Fairbairn to explain.
Liz Fairbairn: Well the core of it is, it's really a moral play of good and evil, unlike American wrestling. There's "rudos," which are bad guys. And they don't play by the rules. And there's "tecnicos," who are the superhero good guys.
Carroll: Fairbairn and her producing partner Rita D'Albert started "Lucha Va Voom" six years ago. They both loved the over-the-top flair of Mexican professional wrestling – or "lucha libre," especially the elaborate masks and costumes of the "luchadors." Add the striptease and wisecracks of American burlesque, and Liz Fairbairn says you've got a show that carries kitsch value for the art crowd.
Fairbairn: And also for Hispanics, for, like, assimilated Hispanic professionals that are either born here, or, you know, have been here since they were kids. It's like something they did with their parents when they were kids, or the grandpa, or their grandma was really into "lucha libre." But it wasn't really cool for them, and this kind of makes it cool again.
Carroll: Yessi Diaz and her boyfriend Jose Rodriguez think it's cool enough to come here for a Valentine's date. Diaz likes the crowd, and...
Yessi Diaz: Mexican culture, it's all around you. It brings it out to every other person, white, black, Mexican. I mean, you'll see them all here.
Carroll: You see all sorts of characters here, wrestlers in masks and costumes – like "Los Crazy Chickens," strippers in diamonds, feathers and leather, and comics. This may not be your first pick for a romantic spot, but the "Downtown News," the newspaper for local loft and office crowd, picked "Lucha Va Voom" as the number one date place in Downtown L.A. One of the long-time wrestlers knows why.
Cassandro: I'm Cassandro Chiquita perro picosa. The queen of the ring.
Carroll: Cassandro says what he does in the ring is what makes "Lucha Va Voom" a place for love. He plants kisses on the audience as he plants his opponents into the canvas.
Cassandro: It's sexo and violencia. So what more can you ask for, you know? Sex and violence.
Carroll: And it's all L.A., says show producer Rita D'Albert.
Rito D'Albert: We've been largely ignored. I think we're too low brow, but I really think L.A. should stand up and be proud, and claim us as their own.
Carroll: So open your heart on Valentine's Day. There's one more show for this run of "Lucha Va Voom" at the Mayan, and there are a few tickets left for those bold enough to throw their hat in the ring.