CULTURE & ARTS
09/30/2015 11:18 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2015

Why The Surprisingly Feminist Themes Of An Ancient Greek Play Are Relevant Today

The gripping adaptation brings the horrors of immigration, oppression and assimilation to Los Angeles.
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Los Angeles' Getty Villa is a contemporary ode to the architecture and artwork of Ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria, modeled with striking allegiance to the original villas dating back to 650 B.C.

So the villa's outdoor theater is a fitting match for Luis Alfaro's "Mojada: A Medea In Los Angeles," a drama transposing Euripedes' tragedy from Ancient Greece to contemporary Boyle Heights. As the title -- a slur for an illegal immigrant -- suggests, the play follows a mother who has recently immigrated from Mexico to the United States. 

For the uninitiated, Medea, written approximately 2,446 years ago, tells the story of Medea, a sorceress who sacrificed everything -- including her homeland and her brother's life -- to protect her beloved, Jason, and nurture their two children.

When Jason in turn betrays Medea by choosing to wed the king's daughter for his personal benefit, Medea takes her revenge, poisoning Jason's soon-to-be-bride and murdering her children with a sword. In the final moment, after Jason encounters the carnage, Medea soars into the sky, above the orchestra, in a chariot led by dragons. 

It's a tale rife with desperation, sacrifice and moral ambiguity. It's also compellingly feminist -- especially for 431 B.C. -- in a "Kill Bill" type of way, with Medea rejecting her maternal instincts to seek the ultimate vengeance. 

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Alfaro, who was awarded the MacArthur "Genius Grant" in 1997, adapts Medea's wildly tragic story to modern day feasibility with unsettling ease. Turns out, the fantastical trials of Greek mythology pale in comparison to the real life tribulations of Mexican immigrants.

Euripedes' plot seamlessly adjusts to follow a different Medea, a gifted seamstress who grew up on a traditional farm in Mexico with her twin brother, her other half. Medea is reserved, traditional, hardworking, loyal. Purely out of love for Hason, the father of her son, Medea agrees to move to the United States, enduring a horrific and traumatic journey in the hopes of creating better lives for them. 

While Medea holds on to the traditions of Mexico, Hason is quick to assimilate, his ambitious mind full of dreams and possibilities for their young son. Hason soon meets a woman who can make these dreams a reality, a slightly older woman, an immigrant now a business tycoon, eager to bring Hason to the top -- for a price. 

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Like her namesake, Medea's fate is a tragic one. And within Alfaro's 90-minute play, he relays her plight with such truthfulness and horror that her final violent resolution seems pardonable, if not warranted. 

"It's a bold statement and a controversial story about what people will do to make their life better," Sabina Zuniga Varela, who plays Medea, explained to the LA Times. "When have we sacrificed our personal beliefs [to get ahead]? When have we gone too far? It'll be interesting to see what [audiences] are going to take away. It depends a lot on the lens they come in with."

Throughout Alfaro's adaptation, each of the primary characters battles with desperation, sacrifice and pride, all in turn making controversial yet somewhat understandable decisions for the sake of survival. The extreme hardships of immigration and assimilation, combined with a bit of Mexican healing magic, perfectly channel the atmosphere of Ancient Greece's mythically-infused tragedy.

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Aside from Hason, women rule the "Mojada" stage. Aside from Medea herself, there's her housekeeper Tita, a healer and adopted family member utterly devoted to Medea since childhood. And Armida, the powerful real estate magnate who's questionable choices successfully allowed for her sustenance and triumph. The three female characters are each flawed yet complex, independent and, in some cases, dangerous. 

In the end, it's difficult for viewers to adhere to their moral compasses and not commiserate with Medea's deadly decision. The oppression faced by both Mexican immigrants and women is difficult to stomach, with Medea bearing the brunt of both. On two counts, she's treated as invisible. 

"I killed the other me," Medea confesses in the play's penultimate scene, recalling how she murdered her twin brother years ago, after her father bequeathed the entirety of their land to him, and Medea was thereby treated like no more than cattle. With the same weapon, she continues to cut ties, eliminating her dependence on men and her identities as lover, mother. 

Whether or not you feel for Medea as she disappears, machete in hand, into her house to the sounds of her screaming son, it's nearly impossible not to get goosebumps as she emerges, in the play's final moments, soaring above the set, flapping her wings, whooping like a bird, haunting and free. 

"Mojada: A Medea In Los Angeles," written by Luis Alfaro and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, runs until Oct. 3, 2015 at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles. Tickets are now available. 

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