Theatre Review: MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES Updates Greek Mythology to Modern Times
I’ve always been a fan of modern updates to classic stories.
I love Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Disney’s THE LION KING is a well-known retelling of Shakespeare’s HAMLET. And currently playing at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES is a modern take on the Greek tragedy of Medea.
For the uninitiated, Medea is a mythological character who is granddaughter to the sun god Helios, and married to Jason (of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS fame). The tale was first written around 800 BC, but the most famous version comes in the form of the Greek author Euripides’ play MEDEA from 431 BC.
Written by Luis Alfaro, MOJADA offers a modern twist on this story – centering around a family of immigrants from Mexico who are trying to adjust to their new life in America.
In this version, Medea (Cheryl Umaña) is the matriarch, married to the motivated and hard-working Jason (Peter Mendoza). They are the parents to Acan (Cole Sanchez), and consider their caretaker Tita (Alma Martinez) – who raised Medea from childhood – to be a part of the family.
I recommend going into the show knowing as little about the story as possible, and therefore experiencing Medea’s journey as it unfolds. Those familiar with the tale are sure to be impressed with the way it is woven into the modern tapestry of the American immigrant.
The show opens with Martinez’s Tita leading Medea and Acan in a ceremonial dance. She is wonderful in the role, also acting as the narrator at times – speaking directly to the audience. Martinez provides many laughs, but not at the expense of her excellent dramatic performance – especially near the end of the show.
Umaña is fantastic as the titular Medea, a friendly and softspoken mother and wife who we know little about until around halfway through the show. Yet it is at that point, as we learn more of her backstory, that she is given a chance to shine. Without saying a word, Umaña is able to convey her character’s past trauma through body language alone. And when it comes time to open up, she does so with a passion. Her portrayal is heartbreaking, and although she mostly wears a smile – you can feel the pain beneath her character’s facade.
Mendoza’s Jason, much like his Greek counterpart, is dead set on achieving his goals. His “Golden Fleece” so-to-speak is climbing the ranks at his job. He will do whatever it takes to be successful, all under the guise of providing for his family. The actor is terrific in conveying Jason’s drive and eagerness to be successful – as well as accepted in society. The character is obsessed with acclimating to American culture, which makes more sense as the story unfolds. His charismatic performance and chemistry with the rest of the cast make for perfect casting in the role.
Guadalís Del Carmen is delightful as Josefina, one of Medea’s only friends. She’s and Martinez play well off one another, and her hilarious comedic delivery is another source of laughter.
Maggie Bofill plays Armida, Jason’s boss, and is quite commanding in the role. Her character started out with nothing, much like Medea’s family, and built her business from the ground up. Everything about the way she carries herself speaks to the power of Armida, and she does a terrific job as the imposing character.
In keeping with tradition at The Rep, the scenic design by Mariana Sanchez is terrific. Simple, yet elegantly, the play mostly takes place in the front yard of Medea’s small home. Aside from the design of the house, the yard comprised of sand in an enclosed area is quite impressive.
The show also features beautiful costumes by Carolyn Mazuca, highlighting the traditional Mexican wardrobe as well as Medea’s elegant creations.
MOJADA does a great job of adapting the classic Greek story, as well as touching upon the modern themes of immigration and class welfare. Director Rebecca Martinez has delivered a powerful and thought-provoking show, full of surprises and which never ceases to captivate. With an excellent cast and a fresh take on the old tale, this is one you will be thinking about long after you leave the theatre.
MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES is playing now through February 2nd at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. For tickets and more information, visit repstl.org.
Photos by Cory Weaver