Dolores Roach is a fascinating, frightening character who tells her story with surprising honesty. Fresh out of prison after taking the fall for her drug dealing boyfriend, Dolores returns to Washington Heights. She just wants to rebuild a life for herself, using her talent as a masseuse.
Until the murders begin.
Dolores is played by Rent's Daphne Rubin-Vega, who also portrayed the fictional character in an off-Broadway show. Her deliciously creepy performance is what truly brings the podcast to life. “She is a survivor, not a victim” Rubin-Vega tells Refinery29, “it’s kill or be killed.” If all that sounds like another famous fictional murderer, it's on purpose. "It's a contemporary Sweeney Todd story,” Aaron Mark tells Refinery29, the podcast's writer. He says he wanted to turn away from the white male canon to create a new protagonist.
The social and political commentary of the podcast is far from subtle, but it feels genuine rather than forced. In the first episode, a transgender character demands to be addressed with respect; the entire neighborhood grapples with the consequences of gentrification. Those might not seem like obvious horror podcast plot lines, but that's why they're important. Rubin-Vega says she has no desire to separate the characters from real world issues. “The social commentary is [in] there," she says, "because of the situation we all share.”
Even though the podcast centers around a female serial killer, survival is the driving theme of the story. As she narrates from her underground lair, we get a sense of both terror and sympathy; even in her most violent moments, the character remains stubbornly human. Another plus is her relationship with Luis, voiced by Bobby Cannavale, which is a thrilling mixture of tender and deadly.
The podcast is meant to have the feel of an old radio show, Mark says, and it certainly succeeds in that. Fans of Dr. Death, Lore, and other more realist podcasts will find the old-fashioned vibe refreshing. The chilling music, eerie sound effects, and layered dialogue add something new, without feeling cheesy.
Though Dolores Roach is decidedly a modern story, Rubin-Vega reminds us that the tale of survival is an old one. “Whenever society starts to really show its bloody teeth, these stories become relevant," she says.