Laurialan Blake Reitzammer
(Please note: I have obtained Luis Alfaro’s approval to submit this abstract based on his unpublished script. He will be giving a lecture at the upcoming SCS.)
Luis Alfaro sets his play, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, in a barrio in Los Angeles, reimagining Medea and Hason (Alfaro’s spelling) as undocumented Mexican immigrants. This paper argues that Alfaro’s character, Armida, represents a combination of two characters from Euripides’ play – Creon, king of Corinth, and his daughter, the unnamed princess – and that this composite character offers an implicit commentary on contrasting gender roles in Mexico and the United States. Ultimately, careful consideration of Armida’s character allows us to see Euripides’ play in a new light.
To be sure, issues of gender/sexuality, citizenship, and identity that are latent in Euripides’ Medea have in recent years been brought to the fore in new and interesting ways in the work of Chicano authors, for example, Cherríe Moraga’s The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (see, e.g., Billotte). This paper situates Alfaro’s version of the Medea myth within the context of trends in theater in the Americas in the last few decades (see, e.g., Barrenechea, Nikoloutsos).
Over the course of Alfaro’s play, Hason leaves Medea to marry Armida. Armida is Hason’s employer; she is also originally from Mexico and she owns the building where Medea and Hason live. Armida’s immigrant experience is radically different from that of Medea and Hason; her affluence (in effect, royalty) contrasts with their financial challenges. The harrowing journey of Medea and Hason to the US includes confinement in a sweltering airless truck, violence, and rape. Armida, by contrast, flew on an airplane to the US after purchasing a student visa and a dress from Ann Taylor; she represents her past marriage to her now deceased husband as shrewd attempt to get ahead and achieve social mobility.
Indeed, the character of Armida underscores the very different gender roles and opportunities available to women in Mexico and the United States. While Mexico is portrayed as a place with parallels to ancient Greece, where women are viewed as property and gender roles are constrained (“we like our women to be girls, then mothers, then grandmothers, and finally, saints,” as one character points out), the United States is represented as a place where women have the potential to achieve social mobility and financial independence if the circumstances are right. Circumstances are right in Armida’s case; she owns a house with a pool and multiple buildings across the city that are explicitly described as her offspring (“every building I own is a child”). Armida, then, is presented as an outsider from Mexico who has achieved insider status. In Alfaro’s play all of the characters are immigrants from Mexico, including Armida as “Creon;” the important distinction is between documented and undocumented immigrants.
Such a distinction — between undocumented and documented immigrants — presents a contrast with Euripides’ play where the distinction is between Greek (Creon and the princess as Corinthian) and non-Greek (Medea is from the Black Sea region). Ultimately, reading Euripides’ play through the lens of Alfaro’s Mojada reveals the very different notions of insiders and outsiders that operate in the Classical Athenian and the contemporary US context. Although Armida, as stand-in for both Creon and the princess from Euripides’ play, represents a character that, in many ways, would have been unimaginable in a classical Athenian context, nevertheless, Alfaro’s queen of the barrio (Creon/Creousa) invites us to take a closer look at the shadowy role of Creon’s family members, and develops the potential inherent in the naming convention of mythical monarchs on the tragic stage.
Ancient Drama / New World