BWW Review: The Rep Raises the Bar in the Barrio with MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES
Sometimes the most powerful stories are the ones that have been handed down from generations. The Greek tragedy Medea is one of these. Told, retold and adapted in various forms through the centuries, this catastrophic tale of love and betrayal has found its way to the main stage of the Repertory Theatre St. Louis.
Placed in the hands of poet, playwright and journalist Luis Alfaro, it lives anew with Mojada: A Medea In Los Angeles, a clenching new dramatic interpretation of Euripides that embodies the contemporary Chicano experience by incorporating themes of race, community, loyalty and immigration.
Alfaro's stunningly relevant saga of the plight of immigrants living in a land where they are not wanted revolves around Jason and Medea, a star-crossed couple residing in LA's Boyle Heights with their son Acan and Tita, a family companion and helping hand.
Medea, a gifted seamstress whose personal experience with assault has left her scarred and secluded, seldom leaves her home. Terrified of assimilation, she spends her free time caring for her son and visiting with her Tita, who serves in equal parts as a surrogate matriarch, neighborhood gossip and a wise elder respectful of her ancestral traditions.
Medea's lover Jason is a smarmy fellow whose ambition repeatedly gets the better of him as he gradually loses his cultural identity to acculturation and avarice. An ambitious mover and shaker eager to grab as much of the American dream as he can, Jason desperately wants to include Medea in his California dreaming.
Already feeling economically restrained and lost in a new land, her uneasy complacency crashes around her when Jason's unfettered ambition leads to dire consequences. Tormented by her traumatic past and far from home in a land where hopes of happiness have been cast aside, an unhinged Medea turns to mysticism to seek revenge on her paramour.
At the heart of this wrenching production is a top-notch troop skillfully directed by Rebecca Martinez who masterfully re-calibrates the Medea story to depict the unsightliness of a society where minimum wage immigrants toil and struggle day after day. Supporting Martinez is scenic designer Mariana Sanchez, whose cramped sets convey the plight of those living in the barrio.
By contrast, Carolyn Mazuca's costumes complement Sanchez's claustrophobic sets, while emphasizing the vibrant beauty of Medea's sewn creations, including the golden fleece she uses to exact her vengeance.
Giving Mojada some comedic flourishes, sage wisdom and acting as a moral compass is Alma Martinez as Tita. Serving initially as a guide for the audience, her role broadens to inhabit the entire production. Onstage she is the charismatic heart and soul of the production as she deftly brings magic, melancholy and misfortune to the forefront of the unfolding drama.
Also terrific is Cheryl Umana as Medea. Radiant and resolute in the face of emotional and physical damage, she punctuates Alfaro's vision of the American immigrant experience with a stunning performance. Also noteworthy is her sparring partner Peter Mendoza. His combination of charm and vacuous guile makes Jason utterly contemptible. As a tandem they seamlessly bring the tension of a strained relationship to life.
Every good melodrama needs a villain and Mojada has one in Maggie Bofill. Playing Jason's business partner and new flame, she is blunt and brutal. Her Armida is an abomination of selfishness and callousness that works as the perfect catalyst for Medea's downward spiral.
Expeditiously paced and featuring a talented ensemble, The Rep's Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles continues this season's focus on intriguing dramas filled with complex characters.
Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles plays at the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre through February 2. For showtimes and more information, visit http://www.repstl.org