I Know Why the Caged Bird Slays

When they first meet, Jason (Alex Hernandez) confuses Medea (Sabina Zúñiga Varela) for a bird, “El Guaco” or “the laughing falcon.” Likewise, when the audience first sees her, she is flapping a pair of large banana palms, like the guaco ready to take flight. But the comparison is misleading: in Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, an adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy, Medea is an undocumented immigrant living in Queens and far too petrified to leave her front lawn, let alone fly. Jason attempts to lure her outside the borough, even the neighborhood: “You need to learn to be of this place,” he insists, but America never takes. “We are of the past,” Medea tells a local churro vendor (Vanessa Aspillaga).

The result, of course, is inevitable and bloody. Alfaro’s adaptation hews closely to the action of Medea and thus the audience is forced to watch, helpless, as our heroine descends into madness and infanticide. Scenes in the present are interspersed with Medea’s monologues about crossing the border, which is as ugly an enterprise as one would imagine. Still, there is some well-earned comic relief in the form of Tita (Socorro Santiago), an elderly woman who cooks for the family and opens the play with her abiding preoccupation: “So, who has the gossip?”

Mojada is a simple play, and while Medea stands in for many others, Alfaro mostly steers clear of overt didacticism and easy, crowd-pleasing pot-shots at POTUS. Though the flashbacks do little to complement the drama, the main action is both engaging and affecting. When Medea finally emerges from her room, her dress blood-stained, her hand gripping a machete, I experienced a rush of catharsis unusual for me even in response to first-rate revivals of the Greeks.

Mojada runs through August 18th at LuEsther Hall.  425 Lafayette Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 45 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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