In Play Reviews

Members of Mojada cast reenact the arduous border crossing from Mexico to the United States. From left, Nancy Rodriguez, VIVIS, Sabina Zuniga Varela, Jahnangel Jimenez, Lakin Valdez. Oregon Shakespeare Festival photo by Jenny Graham.

It’s been many years since Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought one of its plays to Portland, but this isn’t your typical year. This will go down as the season when Portland-area theatres decided, almost as one, to fight back against the growing inequities large and small in our country. What groups have been most affected by the past year’s changes in our government? Take your pick: African Americans, Jews, Muslims, the news media, the LGBTQ community. And then there are the Mexicans…and the women.  Thus, Luis Alfaro‘s biting contemporary play, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, has made its way from a successful summer run at OSF to the Main Stage of Portland Center Stage at the Armory.

As its title implies, Mojada has its roots in ancient  Greek mythology, and in the play by Euripides first staged in 431 B.C. This modern iteration of the Medea myth is the story of a migrant family who flee the violence of their native state in Mexico for a new and better life in America. Like the families we hear about in the news, Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela), her husband Jason (Lakin Valdez), son Acan (Jahnangel Jimenez), and Tita (VIVIS), a healer, have recently arrived in Los Angeles. Illegally. (Loosely translated, mojada means wetback.)

Their trip from Mexico to the U.S. was grueling and horrific. But now Jason works in construction for the wealthy developer, Armida (Vilma Silva), herself a Mexican immigrant, who also is their landlord. Medea works from home as a seamstress. The grandmotherly Tita fills a number of roles for the family. And the family keeps a low profile. All is reasonably well.

After a time, however, Jason’s abnormally long hours create small cracks in the family unit. He tells Medea that he wants to assure his son’s success in their new home. He spends time with his boss, who is grooming him for better things, and the fractures deepen. Medea talks of returning to Mexico. But as secrets come to light, we learn that she dare not.

As in the Greek myth, Medea finds herself trapped–disrespected and deceived, and alone in a country that has no place for her. While Alfaro’s Mojada  is closely tied to the ancient and scholarly, it also is gripping, brutal, shocking and current. The grand themes of passion, betrayal, power, and revenge are taken to operatic heights in this play–a modern story that speaks to our hearts and will keep us awake at night.

The play is directed by Juliette Carrillo. It runs through November 26. Not suitable for audiences under 15.



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