There is a lot of flexibility with what one can do with a Greek tragedy. Its simple framing of plot and absolutism with its moral compass depicts what could in a modern interpretation be a Biblical parable.
But with storytelling having evolved more than two millennia the retelling of Greek tragedy, particularly modernized retellings, allow for the broadening of themes, implementing pertinent contemporary social issues.
Such is the case with Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Madea in Los Angeles, directed by Laurie Woolery, running through April 1 at Yale Repertory Theatre at the University Theatre at 222 York St. in New Haven.
Mojada is an overall good play, and a decent adaptation of Euripedes’ Medea. There are mystical elements that don’t particularly land with the modern setting, and the extreme measures Medea takes tend to come off as more mental illness than righteous avenger at times.
Mojada moves the action from Corinth, Greece to Boyle Heights, Los Angeles where Medea, played by Camila Moreno, lives with her lover Hason, played by Alejandro Hernandez, her son Acan, played by Romar Fernandez, and her older family caretaker, Tita, played by Alma Martinez.
Medea, whose family used to own a large parcel of land in Mexico, had to flee to the United States with her three compatriots after a traumatic incident that happened with her brother, who inherited the land.
The four of them, as undocumented immigrants, are living in a home owned by Hason’s employer, Armida, played by Monica Sanchez.
Medea, who works as a seamstress, making clothes for the community from her backyard, has an ingrained affection for her heritage. Unlike Hason and Acan, she maintains an embrace on her dress and style of her old life in Zamora, Mexico.
Hason, eager to succeed the “American” way has found favor, both in he work ethic and in his charm and physique with Armida.
Hason’s greed, Medea’s suspicions, and the enticement of wealth and luxury toward Acan, lead to the play’s tragic and bloody denouement.
Led by Moreno, the cast is solid. There are standout performances by Moreno and Martinez. Martinez being a stand-in for the traditional Greek chorus, she has the burden of much of the exposition of the characters’ history, and does so with a delightful degree of wry humor that comes with having decades and decades of wisdom.
Moreno, meanwhile, has to carry much of the emotional burden as she, with steadfast conviction, won’t budge on how she wants to live her life and how she wants Acan to grow up remembering where he is from and not giving in to the temptations of American culture.
Hernandez and Sanchez are good, though I find Sanchez to be a bit too posturing as the wealthy Armida. It comes off as more shtick than embodying a wealthy elitist.
This is Fernandez’ first professional acting role at the age of 10 and he is overall delightful for a child actor his age and should be proud of himself for his first role being at Yale Rep.
There is a yet mentioned sixth character, Josefina, played by Nancy Rodriguez, who sells sweet bread on the street to the laborers Hason works with. As necessary as the character is, being the gossipy go-between so Medea can find out about what’s going on with Hason and Armida, she’s also a bit annoying, as the sort of chatty neighbor role that won’t shut up, and is not uncommon in sitcoms. It’s funny sometimes, but she tends to overstay her welcome.
I love Marcelo Martinez Garcia’s scenic design, and Woolery’s use of it. Center is a superbly detailed ragged old two story home that looks gray with age and pollution. On either side of the house rise two giant edifices. The program indicates that they are representative of the so-called “Wall” that former President Donald Trump attempted to erect. They also give off an image of overwhelming capitalism, like two giant towers of corporate power looming over Medea’s home.
The structures’ ability to be interpreted in a multipurpose fashion is very much successful due to Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting and Shawn Lovell-Boyle’s projection design. Both move from subtle fluctuations of tone to broad strokes of aggression, depending on what the scene calls for. It’s restrained when necessary, and hard hitting other times.
Woolery does a great job creating atmosphere around the set as well with Bryn Scharenberg’s sound design coupled with actors moving across the upstage scrim and backdrop giving the impression of children playing in the street out front. It’s never too much and gives an added depth of environment. Mojada is deftly directed and the cast is overall good. I do feel though that the story, in its attempts to contemporize the Greek tragedy does lose some of its mythic qualities, but does also gain some modern relevance.
Leininger is a weekly contributing theater critic for CT Examiner