Chicago Theatre Review
A Greek Tragedy set in Pilsen
Victory Gardens Theater’s Mojada
Mojada is the story of an immigrant family who tries to make a new life in Chicago. It is the story of a woman who hopes only to be a true wife and mother. It is a story about ambition and what it takes to survive in America. Frankly, it’s just a good story. It is adapted from the Greek play Medea by Euripides by Luis Alfaro, who has also brought Greek adaptations to Victory Gardens before, with Oedipus el Rey and Electricidad. He has taken Medea and made it about the Latino community in Pilsen, and the hardships they deal with not only in getting to Chicago, but also with making everyday life manageable once they’re here.
The play opens with actress Socorro Santiago, who plays a stereotypical looking little old Mexican woman named Tita. But first judgments are quickly passed over as Santeiago addresses the audiences and describes different being in America is from her native country. She is blunt, honest, funny, and warm. You immediate understand the type of culture she comes from, and it feels very inviting. We are next introduced to the family with whom she has emigrated from Mexico. There is the ambitious husband and father, Jason, played by Juan Francisco Villa. The fairly terse, and naïve son named Acan, played by Dylan M. Lainez in the performance I saw. And then there is Medea, played by Sandra Delgado. In this story, Medea is a mother and wife who spends her days in her own personal sweatshop, sewing beautiful, knock-off designer garments. She is very small, fragile, and stiff. Alfaro has created a Laura Wingfield of another culture and generation. Jason spends his time bow, scraping and who knows what else for his cougar boss at the construction company he works for. He is trying to move forward the American way, but always feels like he’s struggling to bring Medea into his goals.
The three lead actors are superb. They all create very authentic individuals who you earnestly feel for. The show stealer is certainly Santiago, as the play involves her narrating long sections of flashbacks, while still being a part of the actions. She makes these scenes come alive, where a lesser actress would leave the audience bored. Villa is extremely charming and engaging, and Delgado’s withdrawn performance sets up the climax of the play.
The actors are supported by are really effective production. The lighting design did everything from convince you the actors were in a stifling truck traveling across the desert, to instantly snapping from one scene to the next. Likewise, the set felt like they transported it directly from a backyard in a Chicago neighborhood, and the sound design has left me with chills running down my spin every time I pass under an el train. There were a few elements, such as the projection overlaid on the scenery, that didn’t quite work for me.
I had a few qualms in regards to the style. For example, Santiago spends a large part of the play narrating the action and feelings of the characters. While this choice can probably be attributed to the Greek style of chorus exposition dissemination, it started to feel more like listening to someone read a novel out loud instead of watching a play. However, it was the insights into the horrors immigrants go through to make it into our country, and the comment on Chicago communities that was truly captivating.
In my humble opinion, the play says something very special about Chicago. We are a city of villages. There are so many neighborhoods that make up this town, and that is a huge draw for those looking for a sense of community while maintaining the opportunities of a vibrant metropolis. In the play, a common phrase is “she is one of us,” meaning that they come from the same kind of culture. It is a uniqueness to Chicago I think some people take for granted. There is still heritage and tradition here. That type of fellowship creates a sense of safety in the familiar, but also means there are still some of the stigmas that go along with those societies. The play captures that universal need to connect when you don’t know how.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Victory Gardens Theater’s Mojada
Presented July 12 – August 11 by Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.