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Immigrants in Time

Amy Richlin

University of California

Luis Alfaro’s work plays out the lives at the heart of LA, staged for very different audiences, not only in central LA but in high-status venues like the Getty Villa.  Today as Emma Lazarus’s poem lies in shreds at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, Alfaro’s Latinx performance takes up her message and brings ancient plays to our city, now. 

In my own work both as a translator of ancient plays and in writing about them, my own family’s immigrant experience remains at the heart of what I do.  The women Alfaro puts onstage are intimately familiar to me: the women standing on their porches in Electricidad look like the aproned women who brought me up; the sewing machine in Mojada is like the one in my grandmother’s house, my mother’s mother, where she sat doing piecework, like Alfaro’s Medea.  When Alfaro’s Medea relives the journey north from Michoacan, I think of my grandmother coming over on the boat with her two younger sisters, working in the garment factories at the age of 11.  When Hason dumps Medea, I think of my father’s mother, crossing another border with three children in tow.  As even its director Jessica Kubzansky commented to the LA Times, Euripides’ Medea is a hard play to get inside of.  Although I have taught it many times, it was not until I saw Mojada at the Getty that I felt the play as the story of immigrants and the brutal price of assimilation.  I think that, to come to life, ancient plays need to be translated not only into a current poetic vernacular, wherever they are staged, but into terms that resonate with the experience of current audiences. 

  At the Mojada I attended, just as at the recent Culture Clash Frogs, the audience was mostly not Latinx—as all audience members could tell by who laughed at the jokes in Spanish—but, still, were evidently Angelenos; everything about the mise en scène hit home.  I don’t know how Mojada played at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; all venues come with different audiences.  A performance in Boyle Heights does different work from a performance at the Getty; then at the Getty matinees for local schools, when they bus the kids in from the community colleges out in the tules, different again:  transformative.  At the talkbacks for Roman comedy where I spoke, the students always wanted to know about the original actors and the times that made the play.  This is our chance to make contact, to immigrate past the border of time and reach the present.

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Theatre and Social Justice: The Work of Luis Alfaro

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