Tragedy comes to S.F.’s Mission in ‘Bruja’ 

click to enlarge Leading couple: Sean San Jose and Sabina Zuniga Varela play the ill-fated Jason and Medea in “Bruja.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Leading couple: Sean San Jose and Sabina Zuniga Varela play the ill-fated Jason and Medea in “Bruja.”

The themes of exile and alienation resonate in Luis Alfaro’s new play, “Bruja,” a modern adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy “Medea” set in San Francisco’s Mission district. Loretta Greco directed the world premiere now at the Magic Theatre.

Every character is struggling to establish an identity in America.

Medea, a young sorceress with two twin boys and a dark secret, still practices the ancient arts. Says her devoted servant, Vieja, who also clings to the old ways, “There [at home], a healer — here, a witch” — a bruja. Or, as Creon coldly puts it, a ghost, invisible in this country.

Medea and her common-law husband, Jason, emigrated under dire circumstances that are revealed later in the play. Although in love, Jason is eager to get ahead at any cost here in his new homeland.

His boss, Creon, takes Jason under his wing; the younger man’s future now seems rosy.

But Medea and Vieja are becoming increasingly uneasy.

Medea’s loyal client and friend Aegeus senses something ominous in the air, too. A quasi-comic figure struggling to Americanize himself, he longs for more sex, and for children; regarding Medea’s boys, he sighs, “They are everything, aren’t they? ... The reason we live. Why we endure the pain of this country.”

Less effective, and affecting, is Alfaro’s take on the heart of the familiar tale: how the relationship between the couple is violated when Jason’s ambition trumps his love for Medea, and how Medea’s subsequent vengeful, pitiless fury is both startling and inevitable.

Their early sexual passion and declarations of ardor don’t seem to hold within them the seeds of their eventual, individual acts of betrayal and violence, despite Jason’s distracted babble about his promotion while Medea’s trying to seduce him.

It doesn’t help that much of the dialogue feels stilted and lacks nuance and subtlety — a Greek theater trope that can hamper a modern adaptation. A bit of Spanish thrown in here and there is a nice addition, though, and Greco provides a vibrantly magical ambience.

Part of the problem in this production is in the casting. Sean San Jose’s innate intensity works well for the impulsive Jason. He, as well as Armando Rodriguez as a chilling Creon, and Wilma Bonet’s dryly witty servant, are standouts in an uneven ensemble.

But Sabina Zuniga Varela is a lightweight Medea graceful in her incantations, but lacking the power and depth for a role that requires a huge emotional investment.

Bruja

Presented by Magic Theatre

Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes June 24

Tickets: $22 to $62

Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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