Playwright: Luis Alfaro. At: Victory Gardens Theatre at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; www.victorygardens.org; $20-$60. Runs through: Aug. 11
According to the Greek myth, Medea was a Colchean princess who fell in love with the voyager Jason (of Argonaut fame), eloping with him after killing her own brother. The fugitive lovers resettled in Corinth, whose king offered to marry his daughter to Jason. In order to secure his family's future, Jason agreed to the match, his decision spurring the jilted Medea to vow revenge, poisoning her rival and murdering her faithless husband's children.
Well, in those days, royals could pretty much do as they pleased, and the basis for classical tragedy is their penchant for doing it unwisely. In America today, however, even the privileged are limited in their power, making social conditions a more significant factor in determining the fate of its citizens. The modern tragic hero, rather than acting upon abstract principles of justice and responsibility, is more likely to be an everyday Joe or Jill driven to the end of their rope. If Luis Alfaro's Oedipus El Rey recounted the tale of an orphaned vato trapped in the barrio's criminal culture, his Mojada examines the restricted options of likewise disenfranchised undocumented immigrants.
Corinth is represented by Chicago's Pilsen district, depicted site-specifically down to its street names and screeching El. Medea and Jason, along with their young son and Medea's old nurse, have arrived in the U.S. at great peril, aided by sympathetic church groups after covert rides in freight trucks and grueling marches through arid wastelands. Medea, fearful of being recognized and deported, toils at home as a seamstress, but Jason pursues day-labor work with an ambition attracting the attention of the neighborhood jefa, who envisions him as a successor to her empire, founded on savvy, status and strategic marriages-of-expedience. Jason, forced to choose between his mentor's promise of upward mobility and his wife's cloistered ghetto lifestyle, invites a terrible retribution.
The scope mandated by tragedy is displayed in Yu Shibigaki's deceptively drab back-porch tenement that suddenly blossoms into desert frontiers patrolled by border guards, courtesy of Liviu Pasare's photo-projections. It is also evidenced in Chay Yew's direction, which draws forth appropriately extravagant passions from a cast featuring the powerhouse triumvirate of Sandra Delgado, Charin Alvarez and Sandra Marquez. They are flanked by Juan Francisco Villa's conflicted Jason and Socorro Santiago's earthy servant, who also assumes the duties of a chorus, commenting on events she compares to one of her lurid telenovelas, but which we can see reflected daily in our news headlines.