BRUJA at the Magic is a winner

(Right)Wilma Bonet as Vieja (Left) Sabina Zuniga Varela as Medea in "Bruja" at Magic Theatre (Photo: Jennifer Reiley).

BRUJA: World Premiere by Luis Alfaro. Directed by Loretta Greco at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94123. 415-441-8822 or May 24 - June 24, 2012

BRUJA set in the Mission District barrio is great theater.

There has been an aura of great expectation for playgoers in the San Francisco Bay Area knowing that the Magic Theatre was producing the world premiere of Luis Alfaro’s Bruja. Two years ago his superb Oedipus el Rey at the Magic earned the Will Glickman award for best new play. That modern barrio retelling of Sophocles’ Oedipus burned with intensity. This time Alfaro has placed the Medea legend into the San Francisco Mission District and has come up with another winner.

Knowing the outcome of Euripides’ drama creates a sense of foreboding before a single word is spoken as two identically dressed young Hispanics boys play with a soccer ball on the open stage lined with Mexican tiles and against a back wall of unvarnished plywood.(Set by Andrew Boyce)

This closes Alfaro’s cycle of modern adaptations of Greek tragedies set in the barrio. Being unfamiliar with his earlier work this reviewer must be content with critique based only on what transpired on Magic’s stage on opening night. As directed by Loretta Greco words that studded the PR notes such as: Gritty, fierce, tersely poetic, blistering and sensual are appropriate for Bruja.

Alaro intertwines myths with reality by creating Medea (Sabina Zuniga Varela) and Jason (Sean San José ) as illegal Mexican immigrants living in San Francisco’s Mission District. Their twin sons Acan and Acat (on opening night played by Daniel Castaneda and Gavilan Gorden-Chavez) play soccer while the maid Vieja (Wilma Bonet) makes churros. They all look forward to becoming Americanized and enjoy the good life.

Medea a kindly faith healer/sorceress is called by her neighbors “bruja” meaning witch, a derogatory label. But her ability is used for good until she is wronged by Jason and hell has no fury like a woman scorned. Jason is proud of his rise from a migrant farm worker to supervisor in a construction company owned by widower Creon (Carlos Aguirre) who has an unmarried daughter Glauce and no grandchildren. Jason’s ambition incites him to accept Creon’s offer to make him his heir if Jason marries his daughter and bring the children with him.

When Medea learns of the plan from her fiercely loyal Vieja and Creon offers a spot in a San Jose strip mall to practice her curandero (healing) skills she emotionally snaps. By not accepting the offer (demand) Creon will report her to the immigration authorities and she will be shipped back to her homeland. Medea’s tells of the horrible deed she committed against her twin brother makes it impossible for her to return.

Alfaro adroitly intermixes Mexican terms with English text to maintain the personality of barrio. Zuniga Varela performance is a tour-de-force. Her shift from sensual loving mother to a determined avenging witch with a machete is gut-wrenching. Wilma Bonet as Vieja projects a perfect portrayal of a devoted nurse and almost steals the penultimate scene from Zuniga Varela. Sean San Jose in the unenviable role of Jason gives a competent performance and Carlos Aguirre as the evil Creon is riveting.

Do not miss this production. Running time 85 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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