Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles
Till then, she's as lovely as your mother on her loveliest day, through this tale of two young lovers, smuggled up into the United States from south of the border. But, to get ahead, her husband Jason (Peter Mendoza) has taken to flirting with his ferocious blonde real estate developer boss Armida (Maggie Bofill) in the slowly gentrifying Boyle Heights part of Los Angeles. Armida is brash and confident, and eager to take credit for the modest improvements to her rental properties (she seems to spend far more on her own hair product). But before all that, director Rebecca Martinez infuses the first three-quarters of this 90-minute drama with a kind of youthful idealism. And that leads to an unexpected twist, and the inevitable, soul-bleaching violence in the end. At last I truly understand the cleansing power of Greek drama: the world seems fearsomely in balance, after Mojada.
But how can this Medea mount Euripides' chariot to the sun, after the horrible deaths that must occur, in order to purify all our souls? That part's slipped in as poetry along the way, and modern playwright Luis Alfaro handles it far better than I can, in his play from 2013 (it originally began in San Francisco, in 2012, as Bruja, his second update of a Greek tragedy, after Oedipus del Rey in 2010). Suffice it to say this Medea and Jason met as children during a rainstorm, after a misunderstanding. And before this play even begins, the big Mainstage auditorium is filled with songs that might have been sung by the children of Zamora the day they met. Fate has tied them together before we even find our seats.
The violence at the end, which also includes the offstage death of a child, somehow manages to "reset" everything, clearing our brains and (almost forcibly) returning us to the innocence of those children's songs we heard at the beginning. The other great thematic work here centers on the cruel story of modern immigration northward, from Central America. Though it's soon to be overwhelmed by the weight of legend, our minds are suffused with the cruelty and viciousness of that migrant journey, till we nod in agreement as the show's matriarch (Alma Martinez) asserts, "they will never build a wall that can keep us out."
Guadalis Del Carmen is very strong as a young woman in the barrio, and also as another character on the bleak trek in an unventilated truck trailer going across the desert during that flashback about human trafficking. Cole Sanchez is delightfully realistic as the little boy, Acán, with fine work by Luis Chavez in multiple supporting roles. The pre-show music seemed overly loud or shrill opening night, but special compliments go to set designer Mariana Sanchez for the aluminum-sided house she has put on stage. Among its impressive attributes, it resembles a big Greek mask understandably frozen into a permanent expression of astonishment.
Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles runs through February 2, 2020, at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Loretto-Hilton theater complex on the campus of Webster University, 110 Edgar Rd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
Cast (in speaking order):