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Review: ‘Mojada’ at Yale Rep explores the tragedy of undocumented immigrants

NEW HAVEN — “Mojada: A ‘Medea’ in Los Angeles” opened Thursday at the Yale Repertory Theatre to a standing ovation, following a week of previews. The play, written by Luis Alfaro, reimagines the classic Greek tragedy of Medea, written by Euripides in the 5th century BCE, as a modern story about an immigrant family in the United States.

The show runs for 1 hour, 45 minutes without an intermission. It opens with a delicious narration from Alma Martínez in the role of Tita, a nurse/curandera/wise woman/protector/town gossip who serves as narrator, comic relief, spiritual guide and maker of pozole soup.

In this retelling, Medea is not a princess or a dragon-slayer; she is a Mexican seamstress of extraordinary skill who pays a very high price to follow the American dreams of her husband, Hason.

As the show unravels to its inevitable conclusions, the audience finds out that Medea pays human traffickers to smuggle her family from Zamora, Mexico across the border through the Sonoran desert. The family ends up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where Hason and Medea struggle to make a future for their son, Acán.

“There are things we have to do in this country; choices we have to make to get ahead,” Hason says to Medea.

Unsurprisingly, the choices of the characters of “Mojada” are… well, tragic. But this time around, the inevitable conclusion to the tragedy is played with a renewed sense of rage and betrayal by Camila Moreno. Opposite her, Alejandro Hernández plays Hason with alternating attitudes of swaggering hubris and fear of insignificance.

The phrase “this country” resonates throughout the play and the characters try to figure out the unspoken rules that govern family, marriage, parenting and even clothing in the United States. The ideas of legal/illegal that used to govern the lives of the characters break down after crossing the border.

Instead of clear answers, “Mojada” leaves a lot of questions: which laws should be followed and which ones ignored? How much should an immigrant assimilate to the dominant culture? What kinds of sacrifices should be made to achieve success?

This is done by design. Alfaro, a Chicano playwright, is well-known for adapting classical Greek plays like “Electra” and “Oedipus Rex” to a mestizo framework.

“If I could tell one story about one crossing, I might be able to question the audience. What the Greeks do is ask us a question and not give us an answer, we are supposed to wrestle with that,” he said in an interview with Yale Rep.

In the tradition of Greek tragedies, most of the action of the play happens offstage and is retold through long monologues.

However, the monologues of “Mojada” do have an advantage over classical Athenian theater: lighting by Stephen Strawbridge and projections by Shawn Lovell-Boyle.

Despite the technical advantages, the action of “Mojada” never leaves the rundown back patio of chain link, recreated with meticulous attention to detail by Marcelo Martínez García –down to the orange extension cord that powers Medea’s sewing machine and stray clumps of faux grass struggling up through the cement.

“Mojada” was directed by Laurie Woolery, a Beinecke Fellow at Yale’s David Geffen School of Drama this spring. She has directed a number of shows at Yale Rep, but said “Mojada” was special because it marked the stage debut of Romar Fernandez, 10, and Adrian Guillen, 11, in the role of Acan.

“For them to know that this is their place, that they belong here, that you all belong here, has been really moving and amazing,” she said. “I didn’t know I could be here, so every time I get the opportunity, it is a gift and a blessing.”

After the show on Thursday, Woolery received a framed photo of the production of Medea as a memento and thanked the audience for attending.

“This is history in the making,” she said. “Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for sharing this epic story. It’s still important to tell the story because our community is still invisible and erased, and so to be here at Yale is important.”

Robert Bourgeois and Evangeline Mendoza Bourgeois of Wallingford went to see the play and support their goddaughter.

“I thought it was brilliant. It’s an amazing adaptation of Medea. The story is intact, but applied so powerfully to the Mexican migration experience,” Robert Bourgeois said.

Mendoza is a longtime volunteer music teacher at SCOW and is originally from a Mexican community in Arizona. She is well-known in the community for working to preserve Mexican culture through music.

“This was very personal to me. I felt that deeply,” Mendoza said. “I’m so happy about this. I just hope everybody sees this play.”

“Mojada” runs until April 1, 2022 at the University Theater at 222 York Street in New Haven. Tickets are between $15 and $65. Student tickets are $15 for all performances. Tickets are available at the box office or online at yalerep.org.


Twitter: @lguzm_n

Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.


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