A modern retelling of Euripides’ Medea brings life as an undocumented American to the stage with honesty, fire, and heartbreak
Nobody expects a rendition of Euripides’ Medea to be heartwarming, but the ancient Greek setting of the original does allow for some emotional space between the ancient Greek tragedy and modern NYC. An element of fantasy and temporal distance. Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, directed by Chay Yew and showing now at the Public Theater, offers no such emotional barriers. Neither does it let its audience forget that this tragedy, set in New York City, is happening all around us. Maybe today. Maybe right now. Every reference and set-piece keeps the audience as trapped in Medea’s world as she is, ultimately, bringing the house down.
Mojada tells the story of Medea (Sabina Zúñiga Varela), a supernaturally-gifted seamstress, and her family as they try to make it as undocumented immigrants in New York City. Jason (Alex Hernandez), her lover and the father of her son, is working his way up the ladder at his new construction job, and growing closer with his new boss Pilar (Ada Maris). Medea stays home, sewing while she and servant/narrator Tita (Socorro Santiago) raise their son Acan (Benjamin Luis McCracken). Tensions grow as Jason and Acan Americanize, setting down roots while Medea is afraid to leave their home in the Barrio.
As the story unfolds, Medea takes the audience through her tragic journey across the border, a journey that leaves her scarred and drives a rift between herself and Jason. While many of the worst moments are described, or taken off-stage, Mojada doesn’t pull a single punch, giving enough to let the audience imagine something far worse than anything his cast could pull off on stage. One particular scene is covered by the roaring, screeching sounds of a subway train and, well…I’ll just say that I haven’t heard that sound the same way since.
At its best, storytelling is about allowing an audience to see clearly through the eyes of another. Mojada is just such a piece, turning the Greek mythological play Medea into a Latin American magical realist peek into the very real tragedy of US immigration policy and the toll it takes on those seeking to live the American dream. It’s a story of a family struggling with identity, poverty, and the dangers of illegal status, about what dies in the struggle to make a new life an undocumented worker in the United States.