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The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (review)

From: Theatre Journal
Volume 58, Number 1, March 2006
pp. 103-106 | 10.1353/tj.2006.0070

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Theatre Journal 58.1 (2006) 103-106

The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea. By Cherríe Moraga. Directed by Cherríe Moraga and Adelina Anthony. Pigott Theater, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. 15 May 2005.

Cherríe Moraga's The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea has received few full productions since it was written in 1995. The Stanford Department of Drama coproduced this version, with playwright Cherríe Moraga codirecting with Adelina Anthony, who had directed the world premiere in Los Angeles in 2002. The production featured Equity actors (VIVIS as Medea and Tessa Koning-Martínez as Mama Sal) and professional designers (lighting designer Chad Bonaker and conceptual artist/designer Celia Herrera-Rodríguez). The Hungry Woman furthers Moraga's exploration of the intersections between aspects of identity, particularly as a Chicana lesbian, but also in relationship to indigenous cultures and motherhood. This production emphasized Aztec and Native American culture and performance practices in contrast with elements of European theatrical tradition.

Rather than revising Euripides' Medea, The Hungry Woman balanced elements of the Greek story with the Mexican La Llorona and the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. The intersection between cultures was emphasized throughout, particularly in the set design. The set evoked the white marble architecture of ancient Greece, but its shape suggested a cave or natural rock setting. Lighting and repositioning of a small rectangular platform transformed this abstract background into various locations such as a lesbian bar and a mental hospital.

While the simplicity of the set balanced various cultural influences, an introductory voice-over specifically addressed contemporary political issues, establishing the world in which the play takes place. The voice-over describes 11 September 2001 as a time when "the giant twin pipis fell and everyone went to bed with the flag." This departure from the published play text resituated the political background of the production from the US Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s to more contemporary global events. The play's imagined present depicts racism and economic collapse leading to revolutions that split the United States into several ethnically based countries. One of these independent states, Aztlán, combines Chicano and indigenous cultures; it acts as the homeland from which Medea is exiled following counter-revolutions reestablishing men in power, women in the kitchen, and queers in social exile. The Hungry Woman takes place in this postrevolutionary dystopia on the border between the US and Aztlán, where Medea and her lesbian lover live with Medea's son, Chac-Mool. Jasón, Medea's husband, occupies an important position in Aztlán and wishes to divorce Medea and return to Aztlán with Chac-Mool. The actors playing these roles contributed to the political and cultural messages inherent in Moraga's script, fleshing out the struggles with identity and culture through their performances.

VIVIS, who has performed in several Moraga plays, emphasized Medea's desperation; she spent a great deal of the play wandering around the stage in a black slip with a bottle of tequila or confined in a mental institution. When Medea decided to kill her son rather than let him return to the homeland that exiled her for her lesbianism, a dance choreographed by Alleluia Panis combined images of birth and death culminating in a Pietà image in which Medea cradled her dead son. Medea's death echoed this pose at the end of the play, where Chac-Mool reappears, possibly as a ghost or hallucination, to absolve and cradle Medea as she kills herself.

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Figure 1
VIVIS as Medea (left) blesses Chac-Mool (Misha Chowdhury) while Chihuateo members Kendra Arimoto (center, kneeling) and Micaela Díaz-Sánchez attend in The Hungry Woman. Photo: Mandana Khoshnevisan.

Adelina Anthony, who codirected this production, played Luna, Medea's butch lover. Her mixture of toughness and tenderness emphasized Luna's passion for Medea and her frustration at their failing relationship. She provided the voice of reason in contrast to Medea's despair. While Medea's devotion to her land and her son complicated her sexuality, Luna appeared unapologetically macha and made herself at home in the queer ghetto where she lived with Medea. She taught Medea's son about...