Tucson's Borderlands Theater opens "Bruja" by Luis Alfaro

Last play in trilogy transforms 'Medea' with modern themes
2013-03-21T00:00:00Z 2013-03-21T16:57:29Z Tucson's Borderlands Theater opens "Bruja" by Luis AlfaroKathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Luis Alfaro is about done with the Greeks.

Next week, Borderlands Theater opens "Bruja," the third in the last of the plays based on Greek tragedies that he'll write. (Next up for him is a trilogy called "Migrations," about a family living in the American Southwest.)

The first in Alfaro's Greek trilogy, "Electricidad," based on Sophocles' "Electra," was commissioned by Borderlands, written and placed here, and staged in 2003. "Oedipus El Rey," based on the Oedipus story, was seen at Borderlands in 2011.

"Bruja" is an adaptation of the Medea story. It's about a woman who seeks revenge against her husband by killing their children.

All the plays are set in modern times and in Latino communities, but speak beyond that population.

"There's no point in writing if you can't attach it to contemporary life," said Alfaro, who won the MacArthur "genius" grant in 1997 and is preparing to move from his Los Angeles home to Ashland, Ore., where he will be the first playwright in residence for the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

None of these tales is light stuff.

"We are in a very violent time," Alfaro said. "The gun debate is very interesting. At the heart, we are talking about what happens in our public life. Why is it so violent? And emotionally violent? ... I wanted to address issues of contemporary cities."

The ancient Greeks, he said, allow a smooth entree to today's society.

"The Greeks are asking us, 'What does it mean to be good, to stay good? What does it mean to go toward the darkness; how do we move toward good?' " he said.

Those are questions we should still be asking, he added, speaking by phone from Los Angeles.

"This is a time of a lot of cruelty," he said. "Yelling has replaced talking. … It's cool to get online and say something cruel about somebody. The Greek plays teach us that we have choices."

"Bruja" takes place in the San Francisco area - Daly City. (Alfaro wrote this while in residence with the commissioning company, San Francisco-based Magic Theater.)

It's about a family that has moved from Mexico. The husband, Jason, is ambitious; the wife, Medea, young and beautiful; their children, rambunctious.

The husband's longing for success eventually leads to the alienation of Medea, the destruction of the family, and great tragedy.

"Medea is a woman in exile," Alfaro explained. As an immigrant from Mexico, she is in isolation from her extended support system. All she has - as is true of many immigrants - is her immediate family.

Alfaro has dispensed with the image of Medea as an old and dried-up woman.

"Medea is always painted as an old shrew," he said. "The evil character had to look old and ugly. But in the Greek culture, Medea would have been young - around 21. The notion of a woman scorned at that age … for someone to be confused by love, and the notion of love" made more sense in the tragic tale.

He also wanted to give audiences an insight into the husband, who is the clear bad guy in the Greek original.

"What does it mean to come to this country and want to succeed so much you forget about family and culture?"

Those ideas launched "Bruja." As he began to write, he had others.

"I thought it would be interesting to have the audience fall in love with them both (Medea and Jason) before we watch the tragedy unfold," he said. "To see them as real human beings; to know she is a sorceress, and what happens when you have a gift for healing and you go to the dark place."

In the end, he said, he hopes that "Bruja" does what those Greek tragedies did: resonate.

"The Greeks are asking us to understand the condition that makes that (violent world).

"The play poses the questions, and you, the audience, provide the answers. If it's a good question, it won't be answered right away. I hope that's what happens in this play."

If you go

• What: Borderlands Theater's production of "Bruja."

• Playwright: Luis Alfaro, based on Euripides' "Medea."

• Director: Eva Zorrilla Tessler.

• When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday; opening is 7:30 p.m. March 29. Regular performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays and April 13. Continues through April 14; no performance March 31.

• Where: The Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

• Costs: preview, $12. Regular prices $19.75-$24, with discounts available.

• Reservations, information: 882-7406.

• Running time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

• Cast: Angelica Rodenbeck, Robert Encila, Guillermo Jones, Felipe BEnnett, Rene Junius, Marcus Chamberlain, Gillian Jones

Who's who in "Medea"/"Bruja"

• Medea in Euripides' "Medea."

A sorceress and a princess. She hailed from an island in the Black Sea, peopled with barbarians.

In Alfaro's "Bruja"

A curandera, she has immigrated to the San Francisco area from Mexico.

• Jason in Euripides' "Medea."

A weak man who abandons Medea and marries the daughter of the king in order to gain more power.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

Jason has come from Mexico with Medea and their children and longs to make it good in America, and so ingratiates himself to the boss.

• Creon in Euripides' "Medea."

The king of Corinth and devoted to his daughter, whom he wants Jason to marry.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

The boss, a widower, with a daughter he adores. Her future happiness is his most important goal.

• Glauce in Euripides' "Medea."

The king's daughter, young and beautiful.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

Glauce is the boss's daughter; we never meet her in the play, we only hear of her.

• Aegeus in Euripides' "Medea."

The King of Athens. He turns to Medea in hopes she can cure him of his sterility.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

Aegeus is one of the patients who comes to Medea for healing.

• The nurse in Euripides' "Medea."

Caretaker of the house and Medea's confidante.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

Vieja is Medea's nanny, maid and confidante. She has come from Mexico with the family.

• The children in Euripides' "Medea."

Medea and Jason's offspring; they are seen but not heard in the original.

Alfaro's "Bruja"

Acan and Acat, twins, are Medea and Jason's children. They are both seen and heard in this adaptation.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

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