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Theater review by Helen Shaw
The world outside the Public Theater is a brutal but effective collaborator in Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: As we sit, watching his modernization of Euripides’ Medea, the news whispers additional horrors in our ears. When desperate immigrant Medea (Sabina Zúñiga Varela) describes her family’s odyssey out of Mexico—the sexual assaults, the water kicked over in the desert, the fear that her child will wind up in a cage—we’re struck first by her cry and then, more painfully, by its echoes.
Alfaro’s adaptation relocates the myth from Corinth to Queens, where Medea, Jason (Alex Hernandez), their son (Benjamin Luis McCracken) and their nanny (Socorro Santiago) are making a life. Neither Alfaro nor director Chay Yew tries to hide the play’s tragic armature, so there are plenty of portentous rituals and fraught glances that hint at the unraveling of Medea’s fragile sanity. The usual difficulties of adapting the ancient Greeks apply here: How do you believably make a modern person act like the passive Chorus? How do you sustain the drumbeat of an unchanging tragic mood? Mojada answers these compositional questions rather less gracefully than did Alfaro’s other recent classical adaptation at the Public, Oedipus El Rey, and Yew’s direction has wonky size issues—some performances are naturalistic, some overstated to the point of discomfort. But Alfaro’s precise poetic control gives the production a kind of linguistic shine. It’s a bleak work, and a bleak moment to see it in. But Alfaro gives us just enough beauty to make us hang on grimly as the play gets hotter and hotter in our hands.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Luis Alfaro. Directed by Chay Yew. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.