“Mojada” a Powerful, Local Adaptation of a Classical Tragedy
Reviewed by: Joseph Hillenmeyer
“Mojada,” now playing at Victory Gardens in Chicago is playwright Luis Alfaro’s second adaptation of the Greek tragedy “Medea,” this time set in Chicago. The former adaptation, “Bruja” was set in San Francisco’s Mission district.
While in residence at Victory Gardens last summer working on “Oedipus el Ray,” Alfaro became interested in Chicago’s Latino community and decided to transport his “Bruja” to the Pilsen neighborhood on the city’s lower west side.
Jason (Juan Francisco Villa) has just brought his wife, Medea (Sandra Delgado) and their son, Acan (Ricky Reyes) to Chicago after fleeing an oppressive past in a rural part of Mexico.
While living in America is a dream of Jason’s – so that his son may have a better life – Medea has a difficult time assimilating. At first she seems merely old world, but as we find out more about the journey the family made to America, her troubling past is revealed.
Pilsen is a fitting setting for a play about exiles and immigrants as it is a neighborhood that has provided a satellite home to many coming to this city and country for the first time. As is often the case, it does not always provide a life that is much better than the one a family left. America may be a land of opportunity, but it can be a long way up from the bottom with many sacrifices along the way.
Medea’s friend and nanny to her son, Tita (Socorro Santiago) has also traveled with the family and is yet to understand what the country has to offer. To her, Pilsen is a neighborhood of fear, controlled by a few wealthy outsiders who come through and exploit it for its cheap, illegal labor.
Tita also narrates the portions of the story that take place in the past, with the cast silently acting out their parts. Despite the jumping chronology, the play actually flows well and Santiago is by far the highlight. She is a strong storyteller when that is her role and also sarcastic, but enduring when in scene. While quite comical at times, she is also wise and cautious about the success that Jason seems to have come across. Free housing and a good job don’t come without a price and she fears early on that Medea will be the sacrificial lamb for her husband’s dream.
We watch as Jason builds a relationship with the neighborhood’s figurative queen, Armida (Sandra Marquez) in order to procure a job and possibly an inheritance for his son. While he lounges in Armida’s pool, Medea works her fingers to the bone creating high quality, knock-off dresses for pennies on the dollar in their small apartment.
Medea and Jason are both presented as more sympathetic characters in Alfaro’s adaptation of the Greek tragedy, party because Jason is also an immigrant struggling to build a better life for his son. He sees the way business is done and how fortunes are made in the city and plays along. For Medea, her rage builds slowly and before the finale we see little of the vengeance she will eventually unleash.
The adaptation is flawless considering it is 1,000 miles and years withdrawn, and that is more of a testament to Alfaro’s script than any actual modern parallels to the original story, although there are plenty. The local flavors of the play are accurate as well, with jabs at the hipsters who are swarming into traditionally non-white, working-class areas; and the power brokering that goes on in city offices and departments.
Furthermore, the thunderous noise of an L pounding through Pilsen during Medea’s most horrific act takes what is a modern annoyance for most of us and ramps up the intensity in a way Euripides obviously didn’t have access to.
Seeing a bit of Pilsen on display in the heart of Lincoln Park – although just a few miles apart – is a telling expose of how the larger, unmeasurable gaps that exist in Chicago’s neighborhoods change the way we all experience life in the came city. Weather your interest is in its examination of immigrants in America, the local setting or the homage to a classic tragedy, “Mojada” is a production not to be missed.
“Mojada” runs through August 11 at Victory Gardens Theater 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, on Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30 p.m. (with some exceptions); Saturdays at 4:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $20-$60 and available at the box office and at www.victorygarden.org. For calender information please visit www.theatreinchicago.org.