On my way to baggage claim, I locked eyes with the lovely lady who was sitting at the welcome table sponsored by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.
“You here for the hockey?” she asked with a bored look that said she expected a “yes.”
Indeed, the NHL All-Star Game would be played in town that weekend – but “No,” I replied. “I’m here for The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.”
(I always tell people when I’m going to the theater. Making it sound mainstream normalizes it and implies that it’s something that everyone does all the time.)
The woman’s perfunctory expression immediately changed to an excited one. “Oh! I was there the other night! The woman who played Medea’s old nurse was sensational!”
I agree. In MOJADA: A MEDEA FOR LOS ANGELES, Alma Martinez’ Tita was earthy and fierce. She dispensed a great many pithy observations (“You know family!”) and warnings (“Someone always wants to take away your smile”) in believable fashion. When she acknowledged “I’m a senior citizen,” she also telegraphed her awareness that she didn’t have much time left.
Considering what happens in MOJADA, she might have preferred to die than to see the fate of Medea and her son Acan. Tita had long ago changed from nurse to the family’s surrogate grandmother.
Luis Alfaro’s take on Euripides’ classic instead centers on a favorite theatrical theme: Love-vs.-Career. This conflict has been oft-dramatized in comedies (THE FRONT PAGE), dramas (RAIN), musicals (DREAMGIRLS) and even thrillers (DEATHTRAP). For that matter, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS touches on it, although here Love of God is the barrier to Sir Thomas More’s continuing his successful career.
Here Medea and Jason are romantically linked but not married. They can’t march up to the Justice of the Peace for justice is not on the side of these illegal Mexican immigrants.
So they’re living in unmarried bliss until Medea starts thinking that they’ve made a mistake in coming to California. “I will make it better,” Jason says staunchly. MOJADA agrees with Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that “You can’t go home again” but in a very different way.
We do get the impression (much helped by Peter Mendoza’s on-target performance) that Jason genuinely loves his wife. He’s very much at home with the idea that “she’ll stay at home and get fat.”
Medea’s new friend Josefina (a hilariously endearing Guadalis Del Carmen) agrees: “Every Mexican woman should have a big ass.”
So Medea doesn’t have to worry if she loses her girlish figure. We see that Jason adores her after she suffers a minor injury to her finger and he tenderly reaches to kiss it.
So later, when he metaphorically gives her the finger, we don’t see it coming. Medea doesn’t either; early on when she’s asked if she trusts Jason, Cheryl Umana is utterly convincing when she says “With all my heart.”
Jason doesn’t hide the fact that his boss Armida “has a little crush on me.” That crush will wind up crushing Medea. For once again, love is one thing and career is another. When your boss is a woman who has her eye on you – on ALL of you – and she’s rich, powerful and able to give you what you need, what happens to love?
Armida was expertly played by Maggie Bofill. Truth to tell and full disclosure, she’s why I came to town: Bofill was sensational in two roles in GOD SHOWS UP, my play that ran off-Broadway last year.
(And how’s this for a coincidence? I just happened to set GOD SHOWS UP in St. Louis.)
During our six-month run, more than one theatergoer came up to me and said that the play would be stronger if Bofill, who portrayed the assistant in the first act, made an appearance in the second. In fact, she did; it’s just that Bofill is so convincing an actress that these theatergoers didn’t realize the person who was doubling as God in Act Two was the same person they’d seen in Act One. Would that we could have had two Bofills on stage, but there’s only so much that even this terrific performer can do.
Set designer Mariana Sanchez had deftly conceived a large hacienda which had a long alley on each side. Because I happened to be sitting house right, I saw Bofill make her entrance in the shadows far, far upstage. At least three-quarters of the house couldn’t see her, but that didn’t concern Bofill; her high-and-mighty way of walking exuded confidence and that she would be a force with whom to be reckoned.
Take it from one who’s spied thousands of performers enter from the wings; many are themselves until the second they step on stage; only then do they get into character. Bofill could have waited, too, but that’s not the type of actor she is.
Once on view, Bofill showed everyone the absolute assurance of the beautiful and successful woman that Armida is. She too is an immigrant – “I was once there where you are,” she agreeably told Medea – but oh, look at her now. Armida had been easily assimilated and was blithe when complaining to Medea about her Ann Taylor dress: “You can’t spread your legs; the skirt is too tight.”
Armida found a way to spread them, though, and Medea inferred it. The pained expression on Umana’s face must have pained many in the audience. The (literally) poor soul knew she couldn’t compete with a woman who was Miss America to her, one who was ready to claim a victory far beyond a tiara and a bouquet.
Bofill got the right juice out of the line “Enough about me” after she’d dominated the conversation. She was essentially saying “Take THAT – and I defy you to do better.”
Medea couldn’t. Jason’s eventual kiss on her forehead told her and us exactly where she stood with him. Josefina wasn’t any help when she started talking about her delicious sex life; “Good for you” was all that Medea could utter. If Umana didn’t break theatergoers’ hearts with this line, she certainly injured them. And that wasn’t all she had to endure: Medea’s little son started urging her to “Speak English!”
Euripides didn’t coin the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but his theme certainly suggested it. At least Alfaro has ameliorated the situation by giving Medea and Jason only one child.
For the last three decades, I’ve enjoyed productions here at The Rep, as it’s chummily known, all under Steve Woolf’s tenure. He retired last year, and Hana S. Sharif is now the theater’s artistic director. One can’t make much of an assumption from a single production, but her choosing the play – and selecting Rebecca Martinez to stage it – establish that there are at least two points in Sharif’s favor.
And by the way, in case you missed the game, Pacific All-Stars 5, Atlantic All-Stars 4.