Mojada is playwright Luis Alfaro’s update of Euripides’ Greek tragedy Medea, with a modern Chicago twist, currently playing at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre. Alfaro does justice to the original, but updates Medea’s story so that it touches expansively on issues unique to our time and place.
Alfaro’s Medea (Sandra Delgado) has come to Chicago after being disinherited by her father in favor of her brother due to patriarchal custom. The grisly scene that Medea later describes leaves some doubt as to whether she intentionally murdered her brother, but offers the audience a window into Medea’s tortured psyche even before she and her family must flee to Chicago.
Medea is accompanied on that dangerous journey by her love, Jason, (Juan Francisco Villa), son Acan (Ricky Reyes and Dylan Lainez), and Tita (Socorro Santiago), an elderly indigenous woman who serves as the play’s Greek chorus. The family struggles to survive as they are abandoned by the coyotes who promised to get them across the border, preyed upon by Mexican soldiers, and forced to walk for days in the desert before they can begin yet another perilous trip to Chicago.
Medea cannot stay in Mexico, but it is clear that she will not be able to adapt to life in Chicago. The trauma of her border crossing has kept her inside the family’s home, where her considerable talents as a seamstress are exploited by merchants who pay her a pittance and then sell her work at huge profits. Medea lives for Jason, even if she does not share or even understand his driving ambition to make money and assimilate. Medea’s strict adherence to the old ways of unquestioning faith in her man mean that she is blind-sided by Jason’s relationship with his boss, Armida (Sandra Marquez), herself once an undocumented immigrant turned successful developer determined to transform neighborhoods like Pilsen into modern condos.
Setting Medea’s story in Pilsen allows Luis Alfaro to explore, or at least remind us of issues of class, gender, gentrification, and the immigrant experience. Despite that subject matter, there is no shortage of laughs thanks to scenes with Tita (Socorro Santiago) and bread-peddler Josephina (Charin Alvarez) whose outsider gaze sheds light on daily anomalies of life in Chicago. Their witty dialogue is peppered with Spanish words, but this is done judiciously and should not confuse audience members who do not speak Spanish.
Mojada leaves us try to apportion blame between individual characters and societal structures for Medea’s catastrophic unraveling as the play spirals to its inevitable conclusion, a scene so hauntingly executed that gasps could be heard throughout the theatre. Playwright Luis Alfaro does justice to the original, but updates Medea’s story so that it touches expansively on issues unique to our time and place. This production is not to be missed.
Mojada is highly recommended and runs through August 11, 2013 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $20-$60 and can be purchased through the website or from the box office by calling 773-871-3000.