GREEKS AROUND THE US
By Vasilis Papoutsis
LOS ANGELES, CA – The new theatrical outdoor production at the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa is an adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy by Euripides by acclaim playwright Louis Alfaro.
Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles has transported the classic tale from the ancient Hellenic city of Corinth to the modern day city of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles and an enclave of Latino immigrants.
The play that was first produced for the City of Dionysos festival in 431BC as part of a three-way competition and chronicles the story of legendary sorceress Medea, daughter of king Colchis Aeetes and granddaughter of the Sun, as she transforms from a loving mother and wife to a vengeful and calculated killer. Having fallen in love with Jason, she then betrayed her family in assisting with Jason’s theft of the Golden Fleece. After Jason’s failed attempt to claim back his throne, they then flee together with their two sons to a new city Corinth. In exile Medea finds herself in isolation in the new city, and matters take a tragic turn when Jason informs Medea of his intentions to marry King Creon’s daughter Princess Kreusa. His arguments that his marriage to the princess will improve their living conditions and social status in Corinth do not persuade Medea who is furious with what she considers to be a colossal betrayal by Jason, a betrayal that demands an equal level of revenge. In her outrage Medea decides that she will deprive Jason with what he loves most.
In the adaptation the social economic statuses of the characters are extremely contrasting but the same elements of love, betrayal and revenge exist. The characters here are not royals, they are hard working immigrants who struggle but have aspirations for a better tomorrow. They also have very different principles and set of morals. Medea(Sabina Zuniga Varela) is a skillful seamstress who works compulsively in isolation. She sacrifices for Hason (Justin Huen) and she wants him to be successful. Her son is her pride and joy and she wants to raise him in the traditions of her homeland of Mexico. Medea is also a Mojada, a demeaning slang term in Spanish for undocumented immigrants, who has no legal rights. Hason is very different than her. Very ambitious wants to reach the American Dream, and he is willing to assimilate and compromise in order to move up in society. He asks his son to call him Dad, not Papi, and wants him to wear American shirts. Josephina, who substitutes for the Athenian King Aegeus, is Medea’s only friend. She is childless and wants Medea to make her a sexy dress so she can seduce her overworked husband in hopes of getting pregnant. She is a bread merchant in the barrio with her own dreams of opening a store someday and when that opportunity presents itself it will test the loyalty for her friend Medea who is about to be kicked out of the home she lives in by the very successful but ruthless business woman Armida. An immigrant herself Armida(Marlene Forte) is very proud of her accomplishments in the new country and she is offering Josephina(Zilha Mendoza) a store in the mall, an offer Josephina is thrilled to accept. She offers Medea her garage to stay in but she asks her to be discreet, she does not want to alienate Armida who is also Hason’s employer. Armida wants a lot more from him than just his hard work, she wants a husband and a business partner and she is determined to realize her desires. She also has her sights on Medea’s son Acan (Anthony Gonzales) and she tries to win his affections with lavish gifts and promises of a better life. Medea is unaware of her intentions and Hason’s willingness to marry Armida. Her friend Josephina lets her know about the rumors circulating in town and when Medea confronts Hason she is stunned to find out of his intentions to marry another woman. Her trust in him is so great that such a proclamation in unimaginable. Fury and rage overcome her and she threatens revenge. She later tames her anger in order to gain time to plot her revenge.
This is Louis Alfaro’s third adaptation of the Greek classics. He wrote ”Electricidad,” another Euripides play about the revenge slaughter in the family of the great King Agamemnon, and ”Oedipus el Rey” of a Sophocles’ play. In a press preview Alfaro said that he was introduced to the classics by fate. While he was teaching a poetry workshop for young felons in Tuscon he met an innocent looking 13-year-old girl who had murdered her mother to avenge her father’s death. The mother had set up the murder of the girl’s father who was a drug dealer. Shortly after that he was browsing a book rack at the Arizona Theater and his eye caught a special offer: “10 Greeks for $10.” The first book he red at random from the box set? “Electra!” The same storyline as the 13-year-old felon girl he was teaching. It could not had been just a coincidence, it was a sign, and that is how he started his journey in ancient drama. He also discussed the challenges this particular adaptation presented because the play had to be shorten to 90 minutes, to accommodate the Getty Villa’s curfew time, from the 135 minutes that was the play’s initial run in Chicago. He said, ”In 90 minutes can I create a love story, can I see it fall apart?”. He continued about Medea’s character, ”You might not agree with what she is doing but can you see where she is coming from?.” I believe he accomplished that in big part because of Sabina Zuniga Varela’s powerful performance and a couple tweaks in the plot. The fact that Medea and Hason is not a married couple in this adaptation, their son is the only common bond they share, shows that Medea’s enormous love and trust for Hason is pure and strong. That makes Hason’s betrayal even more devastating for Medea as she realizes that she had no legal standing to protect herself and soon finds out that she is evicted from the only home she has. Her son’s willingness to move in with Armida is the final straw that unleashes her rage and puts the revenge plot in motion. Medea has been given an empathetic profile, the woman who has been betrayed by the people she loved most, rather than the manipulative sorceress as she is in the original. The play is directed by the award winning director Jessica Kubzansky who is also the co-artistic director of the Pasadena theater company, The Theater@ Boston Court that also produces the play. Their aim is to produce artist-driven plays and the artists are encouraged to pursue their artistic visions and this play is a great example of that. When I ask the director what attracted her to this adaptation she said that ” by making modern the given circumstances, focusing on the love story of an immigrant family in today’s world, enabled me to empathize with all the characters and their actions. He made human everyone’s stories in a profound way”. In regards to the playwright she said that she loves his use of language and said that ”Luis Alfaro is a modern poet of the theatre, and for me thrilling theatre is always also about poetry”. Well deserved compliments from a director that herself received accolades in the local press for her direction of the play.
The play is not all dark drama. There are enough funny moments that provide a necessary relief from the tragic storyline. For more info you can visit www. getty.edu. Performances are Thursdays to Saturdays. The play runs until Oct. 3.