by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 13, 2017


"Men do what men do," says the sage grandmother in "Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles." But what transpires in this operatic play is a study of what women do, an evocation of the fury a woman can generate when finally and fully scorned. It's an ode to the power women wield for spurring action, inspiring and stoking greed, and for laying waste to everything in their ruinous path.

Using the meat of Euripedes' "Medea," playwright Luis Alfaro built a new story of a woman imprisoned by the horrors heaped upon her, and her ultimate deliverance from that prison through her self-immolation. Edges singed by the depths of Greek tragedy, "Mojada" combusts from the combined fuel of brutality, betrayal and abandonment in the toxic environment of illegal border crossing from Mexico into the U.S.

In "Medea," famed Argonaut Jason leaves his wife Medea and marries another woman. Medea exacts revenge by killing the new wife plus her own children. These basic facts carry forward in "Mojada," with a focus on the history that placed Medea in the powerless position from which she eventually strikes out in desperation. Through a Greek chorus/narrator in the form of Tita, Medea's aunt, the brutal past is explicated; Medea's father and brother abused her and robbed her of the land in Michoacan that was her birthright because of her gender. On their journey through the desert fleeing to the U.S., Medea is brutalized and raped. These events so damage her psyche that Medea exists in the confines of their small home in the barrio, imprisoned and dependent on Jason's perseverance to pull them out of this ditch.

Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela) has Tita (VIVIS) for companionship and comfort, and news from the world outside her four walls. Tita provides clarity and context in her fourth-wall piercing speeches, providing many of the play's comic moments. The twinkling VIVIS is a steady foil for the creeping darkness in "Mojada"; like many matriarchs, she offers the distraction of levity, and a steadying voice as the gravity takes over. VIVIS is splendid in this role, reminiscent of Carrie Fisher's intelligence and bawdy humor. She gets some of the best lines in the show, like "In Michoacan, everyone knows your cheese."

The extraordinary magnetism of Varela conveys Medea's strength and vulnerability. Behind her quiet, power is building. Even in Medea's anxiety, Varela is majestic and compelling, an elegant sorceress waiting to appear. Varela has an irresistible presence, and in her full capacity as the woman scorned, she is operatic, the lyric soprano crying her anguish and anger to the world.

Jason (Lakin Valdez) swaggers into the scene, dirty and spitting, machismo and virility in every strut until he sees Medea's pain. The energy shifts, and it's clear in an instant that he fears Medea, or fears for her. It's a difficult line to walk, and Valdez does it well. Jason's love for Medea is so evident that the audience cried out at the realization of his betrayal. It was an extraordinary moment of theatre.

Another character who provides necessary exposition with humor is Josefina (Nancy Rodriguez), a local street vendor that Tita brings in to be a friend for the isolated Medea. She is a necessary bridge between the old country and the L.A. barrio. "We should look like the old country; plump and full of possibilities." Rodriguez bounces onto the scene with joy, delivering a comic performance that garnered well-earned applause on her exit. She is the innocence lost, the possibility Medea could never realize under the weight of her trauma.

While there is much to like about "Mojada," there are a few perplexing weak spots in staging. In a scene with only two or three characters, one would walk away from the others, talking all the while, and stand upstage to gaze out into the distance, a puzzling blocking that doesn't match reality. People don't walk 20 feet away from each other while they're in the middle of a conversation and stare off into the distance. And when Medea's sorcery is cast onto another character, the depiction is left to lighting and imagination, and is ultimately a disappointment.

"Mojada" is a wrenching, gorgeous wonder of a play. Alfaro took the raw, brutal material of a Greek tragedy and created a potent, gripping play about real people that's full of surprising humor and magic realism. The resulting cloth pieced from these disparate elements is marvelous.

"Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles" runs through November 26 at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97209. For tickets and information, call 503-445-3700 or visit

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.