July 30, 2019
Awk! Awk! The harrowing high-pitched screech of an enormous bird, the gauco, fills the theater. Does it signal freedom or imprisonment?
This question resounds throughout Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, an intimate and disturbing play about the journey of Mexican immigrants fleeing death and poverty. Spun from the threads of the ancient Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, Mojada updates the themes of displacement and revenge.
Arms outstretched, Medea (an intense Sabina Zuniga Varela) flaps large tropical banana leaves and repeats an incantation that releases the sounds of home. Medea knows her potions.
Living in a worn down apartment, Medea sits behind a sewing machine in the ramshackled backyard (by Arnulfo Maldonado) brightened by green plants in large pots.
Undocumented and fearing arrest, Medea relays in a harrowing flashback, the family’s escape from Mexico. Stuffed in an airless truck, she describes their trek across the dessert and her horrifying ordeal at the hands of brutal soldiers.
Emotionally paralyzed since the migration to Corona, Queens, Medea relies on the motherly servant, Tita (the very wry Socorro Santiago) to translate all things American. A gifted seamstress, Medea fashions “piece work” into impressive outfits. Because Medea is unable to step into NYC’s overwhelming streets, Tita invites the easy-going, expansively personable Churro vendor Luisa (Vanessa Aspillaga) over to enliven thier solitary lives.
Luisa, Tita, Acan (Benjamin Luis McCracken)-- Medea's 10 year old son and Jason (Acan's father) bring Medea stories of life outside the backyard.
While Medea retains the rituals of her native Mexico, Jason, who is not officially married to Medea, aims for the American dream.
Gainfully employed in the housing business, the incredibly hunky Jason (Alex Hernandez) attracts the attention of his boss/owner, Pilar (Ada Maris). Intent on mainstreaming his son, Jason gets sucked into the opportunities dangled by the competitive and unsentimental Pilar.
For those who know how Medea ends, the dénouement is inevitable. Yet when Medea learns her son will be ripped from her side, she wields a harrowing soliloquy of sorrow.
Like the Ancient Greeks, director Chay Yew takes the murderously gory action off-stage thus allowing the imagination to take over.
It's possible many attending Mojada at the Public Theater found the play emotionally overwrought, but those who have lived this story surely embodied the perilous tragedy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis