illegal immigrants

‘Watsonville’: What’s old is new

Milagro's revival of Cherríe Moraga's 1990s play about a volatile strike in a California cannery feels like it's lifted from today's headlines

Let’s do the time warp again. Cherríe Moraga’s Watsonville: Some Place Not Here, which opened Friday night at Milagro Theatre, premiered in 1996 and is based loosely on events that took place in the mid-to-late 1980s. But you’ll be excused if you think it’s ripped from today’s headlines or incendiary tweets. This is no warm-and-fuzzy trip down Nostalgia Lane. It’s more Good Lord, here we go again.

Moraga’s play, a stand-alone drama that is also the final chapter in a trilogy including Heroes and Saints and Circle in the Dark, is a messy, sprawling thing that overcomes its structural problems with an overriding passion and declaration of ugly truths (and a few redeeming ones). Its greatest achievement is to create believable and sympathetic characters who are swept up in situations that are usually viewed in political terms – as “problems,” not as people. For the characters in Watsonville the great social drama of a sharp cultural clash is both political and the everyday stuff they have to deal with as they lead their lives.

Bunnie Rivera as Dolores, reluctant radical. Photo: Russell J Young

Set amid a two-year-long strike by cannery workers in the Pajaro Valley farm town of Watsonville in California’s Santa Cruz County, the play ripples with issues that have gained more and more urgency since the right-wing ascendancy that culminated in the national elections of 2016 and has been flexing its muscles ever since. Among them:

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Medea crosses the border

In "Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles," The ancient figure of vengeance takes on a more sympathetic role as a desperate illegal immigrant

If you think you know Medea, you probably have yet to see Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles. The play, written by Luis Alfaro, turns the Greek tragedy into an immigration story, and in doing so reimagines the title character as someone much more sympathetic than the Medea of Euripedes’ play, which was first produced in 431 B.C.

This is Portland Center Stage’s 30th season, as Artistic Director Chris Coleman points out in the playbill, so it seems fitting that this production of Mojada from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would be part of the season. PCS, after all, originally was a Portland extension of Ashland’s OSF.

From left: performers Nancy Rodriguez, VIVIS, Sabina Zuniga Varela, Jahnangel Jimenez, Lakin Valdez) reenact the arduous crossing of the desert from Mexico to the United States. Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

“Mojada” – which translates literally to “wet” in Spanish but is used in the play as a racial slur to describe immigrant Medea from Michoacán, Mexico – is about an illegal immigrant family in Los Angeles with a secret (many, in fact). Medea’s husband, Jason (Lakin Valdez) – think Jason of the Argonauts in Greek mythology and the Euripides tragedy, but here pronounced “ha-SONE” – is the ruthless social climber who wanted to leave Mexico in the first place. He brought along his wife, Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela), who uses her magical hands to sew collars for Bloomingdale’s at $8 a pop (Bloomingdale’s turns around and sells them for $120 each, of course); their young son, Acan (Jahnangel Jimenez); and Medea’s longtime mother figure/housekeeper, Tita (VIVIS).

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