A classic Greek drama gets a provocative update in “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles,” the spiritedly performed comedy-drama running through Feb. 2 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Playwright Luis Alfaro transplants Euripides’ tragedy to contemporary Los Angeles, where undocumented seamstress Medea (Cheryl Umaña) lives under the radar with her ambitious partner, Jason (Peter Mendoza), along with Acan (Cole Sanchez), their adorable young son, and Tita (Alma Martinez), an older woman and self-described healer.
Trouble is signaled early on when Medea declines to accompany Jason and Acan on a beach outing. Although her apprehension is understandable, Jason seems unsympathetic. Clearly, he has big dreams that don’t necessarily include her.
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that things end badly. In Euripides’ telling, Medea is a woman scorned who takes shocking and merciless revenge, and Alfaro adheres to that scenario.
But on the way to that devastating denouement, “Mojada” has quite a few insightful things to say about the plight of immigrants who haven’t dotted all the i’s or crossed all the t’s in their transition from hopeful newcomers to hardworking Americans.
Alfaro, who was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1997, immerses the theatergoer in Medea’s world through a deceptively soothing comic sensibility that effectively sets the stage for the dark turn to come. Director Rebecca Martinez deftly negotiates this tricky territory.
The Rep presents play that reimagines 'Medea.'
Umaña is entrancing as a woman grappling with limited options. Mendoza brings the required charisma to his duplicitous character. Also impressive are Maggie Bofill as Armida, the other woman in Jason’s life, and Guadalis Del Carmen as family acquaintance Josefina.
Production values are first-rate, with scenic designer Mariana Sanchez, lighting designer Maria-Cristina Fusté, costume designer Carolyn Mazuca, and composer and sound designer David R. Molina working in sync to conjure an atmosphere of heightened realism.
“Mojada” doesn’t entirely bear the weight of recasting “Medea” for modern times. But it comes tantalizingly close, and this production is an engaging realization of Alfaro’s hilarious but ultimately harrowing vision.