Luis Alfaro is on a roll with his savvy adaptations of the primal Greek texts, updated and grounded in the Chicano culture of Los Angeles. He reworked Sophocles’ “Electra” into the gripping “Electricidad,” then spun his magic once more with “Oedipus el Rey.” Now he turns to Euripides with “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angles,” a Theatre @ Boston Court production currently in performance at The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa.
Alfaro retains the salient plot points of the Greek original – Jason, he of the Argonauts, steals the Golden Fleece and the heart of Medea, who, in fleeing her kingdom, kills her brother, chops him up and throws the body parts off the ship to slow pursuers. The lovers wind up exiled with Jason’s ambitions frustrated. Looking for the main chance, Jason marries a king’s daughter, which drives Medea mad causing her to take horrible revenge by poisoning the king and his daughter then slaying her own children to spite her faithless husband. Not giving anything away here, no spoilers, for the plot of classic tragedies are well known, the fates of the characters certain. For example, the prologue of “Romeo and Juliet” spills the destiny of the lovers in the prologue. It’s not that their fate is sealed, but how they get there that matters and becomes the instructional entertainment of the show.
In “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles,” an undocumented Mexican family, which suffered horrors on their dangerous journey from Michoacán to the United States, struggles to survive and adapt in their new country. Medea (Sabrina Zuniga Varela in a searing performance), a gifted seamstress with magic fingers, works at home for sweatshop wages, while her husband Hason (ideal, charismatic Justin Huen), no longer a Home Depot day laborer, has secured a position with Armida (Marlene Forte, excellent in a vicious characterization), a cut throat Boyle Heights builder/landlord who promises promotion. Tita (the fierce, funny and scintillating VIVIS), a family servant devoted to Medea, serves as a one woman Greek chorus, starting and ending the show with ritual and bridging the action directly to the audience throughout. Josefina (warm, unaffected Zilah Mendoza), a struggling neighborhood entrepreneur selling baked good, befriends Medea. And Anthony Gonzalez is fine as Medea’s doomed son Acan, who is seduced by Armida no less certainly than his father.
The show as a whole is completely entertaining with a good deal of humor as well as moments of powerful, spellbinding drama that seize the audience in rapt attention. As the tragedy approached its climax there were times when the collective breath of the audience was held in a silence so thorough that one might hear if the proverbial pin were to drop.
To experience this complex tragedy, smartly directed by Jessica Kubzansky, in a Greek theatre setting is a joy all of its own. The effective scenic design by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. (lighting by Ben Zamora) is well adapted to the space with a large rolling scaffold draped to represent the family’s two story house. Other set pieces roll on and off as needed, most notably two hinged, chain link fences that give the house a feeling of urban grit, and then become the cargo box of the truck the family endured on their journey. Costumes by Raquel Baretto reinforce character and situation and the sound design and original music by Bruno Louchouarn provide a sense of magic and majesty.
“Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles” continues at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October 3.