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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Electrifying Production of Luis Alfaro's Bruja

Also see Richard's reviews of American Idiot and Ben Vereen at the Rrazz Room

Luis Alfaro has written a reimagining of Euripides' Medea running through July 1 at the Magic Theatre. This critically acclaimed writer of Oedipus el Rey has written a contemporary story on the famous character with a certain Latino style. It is so moving and carnal that it shatters one of the ancient myths that has been firmly rooted in our current culture.

Everyone knows the outcome of Medea, so a sense of ominousness is felt as one enters the three-sided theatre, where twin boys Acan and Acat (Gavilan Gordon-Chavez and Daniel Castaneda alternating with Mason Kreis and Daniel Antonio Vigil), age seven, play soccer. Kicking the ball around, they are dressed in soccer shorts and jerseys with the name "Chicharito" on the back. On the wall appears the Mayan ball game "Pitz," in which players were sacrificed to the Gods. Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela), who is young, brown and beautiful, enters carrying a large palm in each hand and begins to say a prayer in Nahuatl and slaps the palms together.

Vieja (Wilma Bonet), Medea's faithful servant, comes onto the stage with a milk crate and bag. She reaches into the bag and pulls out a ripe mango and speaks Alfaro's lyrical dialogue.

Bruja is set in San Francisco and the 85-minute drama intertwines myths with realism by creating Medea and Jason (Sean San Jose) as illegal immigrants living in the Mission District. They are looking forward to becoming Americanized and enjoying the good life of an American. Medea is a faith healer and sorceress with a gentle nature who is called by her neighbors "bruja," meaning witch. She has the power to heal and also to destroy until she is mistreated by her husband who has worked his way up from an unpretentious migrant farmworker to a construction boss.

The playwright skillfully blends Mexican terms with English text to maintain the character of the barrio. Zuniga Varela gives a wonderful tour de force of acting. She successfully goes from a sensuous, loving mother to a resolute, avenging witch with a machete. This is a gut wrenching performance. Sean San Jose gives an outstanding performance as Jason. He captures the man's love for his wife and sons but also his hardness regarding putting business above all else.

Wilma Bonet gives a faultless representation of a devoted servant and almost steals the second to last scene from Zuniga Varla. Carlos Aguirre is perfect as Creon, of Jason's slimly boss. Armando Rodriguez gives an energy-driven performance as Aegeus, Medea's patient.

Gavilan Gordon-Chavez and Daniel Castaneda are charming as Medea's children. Sets by Andrew Boyce, Lights by Eric Southern and costumes by Alex Jaeger add to the enjoyment of this dramatic production. Loretta Greco tautly directs this Latino take on Medea.

Bruja runs through July 1st at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, Ca 94123. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org The Magic Theatre will open their 2012-2013 season with the West Coast premiere of Sharr White's The Other Place opening on September 12th.

- Richard Connema



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