Most productions of Medea seem to clock in at around an hour and a half. It's telling that playwright Cherrie Moraga's inventively Chicano- and lesbian-themed—but longwinded and unfocused—adaptation of the tragedy takes about two and a half hours. To her credit Moraga tries to accomplish quite a number of things within her allotted space. Not only does she relate the Greek tragedy about a woman who is driven to kill her children but she also blends into the mix issues of Hispanic heritage, feminist philosophy, and lesbian theory. Sadly, though, Moraga's writing doesn't explore any of the issues in anything beyond the most academic and dry manner, creating a show that feels thematically half-baked and ponderous. It's often such a seemingly endless slog, one finds oneself wishing that the increasingly unhinged mother would just off the kid already so we can go home.
The play takes place in the near future, in a newly formed post-revolutionary country that lies between the United States and a seemingly Mexican-influenced nation called Aztlan. Medea (Lina Gallegos) has been exiled to these borderlands after she leaves her husband Jason (Melody Butiu, playing male quite convincingly) for her lesbian lover Luna (director Adelina Anthony). However, Jason, now about to remarry, wants custody of Medea's 13-year-old son Chacmool (Ramon Granados Jr.), who is ironically closer to Luna than to his mother. Medea not only feels scorned by her former hubby, she's also conflicted about her own Sapphic impulses, and she's worried about her son growing into a man just like his dad. Thus her decision to kill her child is as inevitable as her own sad downfall.
Moraga's play is overwritten, with heavy, stilted, borderline-impenetrable dialogue and plotting that is so ham-fistedly pretentious and metaphorical it never connects with the viewer on a dramatic level. The play's events are mostly allegorical, and the emotions expressed seem forced and inadequately connected to what is happening. Admittedly the piece offers some intriguing ideas: The notion of a woman being stranded in a strange country that is the veritable physical embodiment of her gender-orientation conflict is striking—and so is the opening conceit in which Medea is glimpsed in a lunatic asylum following her monstrous act.
Yet director Anthony's production is sadly fraught with pacing problems, and the piece can't avoid an infelicitously pompous atmosphere. The blocking is enigmatic and unclear, full of bizarre, inexplicable gestures and movements. And the performances are disappointingly uneven as affected and wooden acting turns alternate with histrionic shrieking. But the main issue here is that the adaptation itself is confusingly oblique and unsatisfyingly scattershot in comprehensibility and purpose. Ultimately the show is an update that undermines its own points with its choppy execution.
"The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea," presented by My Lucha & Celebration Theatre at the Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Oct. 11-Nov. 23. $15-20. (323) 957-1884.