The Greek Trilogy of Luis Alfaro, Electricidad; Oedipus El Rey; Mojada
In addition to the texts of Luis Alfaro’s three Greek plays respectively based on Electra, Oedipus and Medea, this volume contains significant contributions by editor, Rosa Andújar of King's College London.
First, she puts the life and work of the versatile artist into context outlining the difficulties that he faced as a writer who was both homosexual and Latino.
She then writes cogently about the historical difficulties faced by Chicanx (Mexican origin) and Latinx (Latin American origin) writers in the United States, probably hindered by both prejudice and the need to overcome a language barrier.
Even more valuable for background is an interview between editor and playwright.
Rosa Andújar also writes introductions to the individual plays, relating the work of Alfaro set in the barrios of Los Angeles and (on transfer) New York to the respective Greek progenitors.
The opening play in the trilogy is subtitled “A Chicano take on the tragedy of Electra” and set in the “City of Los” “Right now, baby”.
From the opening scene, the cultural combination is intoxicating. On one side, there is a Greek tragedy complete with Griego chorus, on the other a contemporary tale in consistently intelligible “Spanglish”.
Anyone familiar with the source will instantly recognise the originals of godfather figure "El Augie", his ambitious outsider wife Clemencia and their three children, gang-tattooed Ifigenia who has run away to a nunnery, Orestes, exiled in Las Vegas, and vengeful Electricidad, keening over her father’s mutilated body in their shabby front yard. There are gods in the background but, rather than Greek, these are Aztec.
Those who know the tradition will also be aware of the general plotlines but not the clever way that Alfaro has updated and relocated them to comment on his own society.
Oedipus El Rey
The re-imagining of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King takes place behind bars in a Californian prison.
In an opening that echoes tradition, the incarcerated chorus provides a prologue during which its members peal off into the roles of most of the major players in the tragedy.
In this case, the kingdom has been transformed into a city dominated by competitive gang culture.
Having been brought up in prison by his supposed father Tiresias, when Oedipus is released, he ignores the entreaty to avoid Los Angeles.
This brings on a tragic inevitability predicted at his birth as a future king destined to kill his father and marry his mother with no way to escape that prophecy.
Before fulfilling his destiny, Oedipus grows as a man to the point where he can challenge Creon, the king in waiting but also his future brother-in-law. He then fights an Aztec god in what must be a spectacular scene on stage that would challenge the talents of any director.
Using hip contemporary Spanglish and a storyline that embraces the Latino experience in the USA today, Alfaro brings new life to an old classic.
Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles
This mixture of Greek and Mexican tragedy focuses on a protagonist who is a talented seamstress used as slave labour in her adopted country.
Rather than a full-blown chorus, the narration is taken on by ancient family retainer, Tita. She unfolds a story of unhappy marriage between Medea and Hason, an ambitious would-be entrepreneur.
An obvious conflict is exemplified through their son Acan. Medea would like him to follow the ancient ways from home, while Hason is an advocate of assimilation and Americanisation.
While following the main theme, Mojada provides a searching commentary on the troubles of lonely illegal immigrants with dubious credentials and, at the same time, the nature of a society where capitalism is taken to logical extremes, for better or worse.
In a play that diverges further from the source than its fellows, the catalyst for trouble is Hason’s boss, a female property developer named Armida, who takes advantage in more ways than one.
This is a fascinating trilogy and the pity is that with its roots in Chicanx and Latinx traditions and language, there is little chance that the plays will ever cross the Atlantic.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher