by Luis Alfaro
directed by Loretta Greco
From the critically acclaimed writer of Oedipus el Rey comes a contemporary story so haunting and sensual, it explodes one of the ancient myths most firmly embedded in our culture. A sizzling look at a sorceress scorned.
"The latest potent tragedy by the remarkable Luis Alfaro…Bruja is as rich in the concentrated poetry of its discourse as his understated foreshadowings of plot turns and symbolism. Alfaro strikes dramatic gold!
Elements gather together in the perfect storm of Sabina Zuniga Varela's riveting performance as Medea in director Loretta Greco's masterfully orchestrated stagings."– Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle
"Luis Alfaro and Loretta Greco have done it again. Bruja is one of the most vital and significant dramas to grace our stages this year."– Lily Janiak, SF Weekly
"Blistering reinvention...As in the explosive Oedipus el Rey, Alfaro finds a way to marry the ancient and the now with startling clarity."– Karen D'Souza, San Jose Mercury News
"Extraordinarily powerful…gorgeous production…Triumphant in its art and staggering in its darkness."– Chad Jones, TheaterDogs.net
Luis Alfaro (playwright) is proud to be back at the Magic Theatre where he premiered Oedipus el Rey, winner of the Bay Area Theatre 2010 Glickman Prize. Oedipus el Rey has gone on to productions in Los Angeles (L.A. Weekly Best Adaptation Award), Washington D.C., Tucson, Minneapolis and is currently enjoying a critically acclaimed production at the Miracle Theatre in Portland, Oregon and will open in July at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. His plays include Alleluia, The Road, Hero, Electricidad, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, Body of Faith, Straight as a Line, Black Butterfly and many solo works including down town and No Holds Barrio. Born and raised in the Pico-Union district of downtown Los Angeles, Luis is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, popularly known as a “genius grant,” awarded to people who have demonstrated expertise and exceptional creativity in their respective fields. This year he has been awarded the 2012 Joyce Foundation Fellowship and been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts. Luis is featured in over twenty-five anthologies, has an award winning spoken-word CD, down town, and won an Emmy for his short film, Chicanismo. Luis spent ten years at the Mark Taper Forum Theatre in Los Angeles developing and producing new American plays. He is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California in the MFA Dramatic Writing Program.
Loretta Greco+ (director) is delighted to launch her fourth season at Magic Theatre with Claire Chafee’s Why We Have a Body. She concluded her third season in style by producing Taylor Mac’s five-hour fantasia The Lily’s Revenge. While at the Magic she has developed and produced the work of Lloyd Suh, Laura Shellhardt, John Kolvenbach, Luis Alfaro, Lydia Stryk, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Carter Lewis, Oni Faida Lampley Liz Duffy Adams, and Theresa Rebeck. As a director, Ms Greco’s New York premieres include Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Story and the OBIE Award-winning Lackawanna Blues by Ruben Santiago Hudson at The Public Theater; Katherine Walat’s Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen and Karen Hartman’s Gum at Women’s Project; Emily Mann’s Meshugah at Naked Angels; Laura Cahill’s Mercy at The Vineyard Theatre and Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano at The Public Theater and A Park in Our House at New York Theatre Workshop. Ms. Greco directed the national tour of Emily Mann’s Having Our Say as well as the play’s international premiere at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Regional credits include the critically acclaimed revival of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow and the West Coast premiere of David Harrower’s Blackbird at American Conservatory Theater; Romeo and Juliet at Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as productions at La Jolla Playhouse, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Coconut Grove Playhouse, Playmakers Repertory Company and The Cleveland Play House. She has developed work with dozens of writers at Sundance, The O’Neill, New Harmony, New York Stage and Film, New Dramatists, The Public Theater, and South Coast Rep.
Prior to producing at the Magic, Ms. Greco served as Producing Artistic Director of NY’s Women’s Project, where she produced the world premiere of Diane Paulus and Deirdre Murray’s musical Best of Both Worlds as well as plays by Lynn Nottage, Karen Hartman, Caridad Svitch, Rinne Groff and Lisa D’Amour. She also served as Resident Producer at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton where she conceived and launched their new play second stage initiative and produced the work of Athol Fugard, Emily Mann, Ntozake Shange, Jon Robin Baitz, Anna Deveare Smith, Doug Wright, Jane Anderson, Adrianne Kennedy, Nilo Cruz, and Joyce Carol Oates among others.Ms. Greco received her MFA from Catholic University and is the recipient of two Drama League Fellowships and a Princess Grace Award.+Member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the union for stage directors and choreographers.
Carlos Aguirre (Creon) has been performing in the Bay Area for over 13 years. He most recently appeared in Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's Day of Absence and Strange Angels Theater's Hunter's Point. Carlos has also appeared in Magic Theatre’s 2011 production of The Lily’s Revenge, and the 2010 world premiere of Oedipus el Rey. He also appears regularly at Intersection for the Arts with world-renowned theatre company Campo Santo. Most recently in the 2009 world premiere of Fuku Americanus based on the Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, in which he composed/compiled the entire musical soundtrack and the March 2007 production of A Place to Stand from the writings of Jimmy Santiago Baca and Ntozake Shange as well as The Hybrid Project (where he developed his original sonic and spoken word verse adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart). Carlos shares his experience by teaching at various schools and at risk environments throughout the Bay Area. He is also currently working with WORD FOR WORD as well as STAGEWRITE, which are two local literacy-through-theatre programs.
Wilma Bonet* (Vieja) is delighted to be back at Magic. Recently, she performed in Almost Nothing and Day of Absence at The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Lydia at Marin Theatre Company, El Otro at Thick Description and Too Big to Fail with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. She has performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad and at the Denver Center Theatre Company in September Shoes. Ms. Bonet was a collective member of the Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe for 7 years and toured with the company internationally. She has appeared at San Jose Repertory, San Jose Stage Company, American Conservatory Theater, Campo Santo, California Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Company, Dallas Theater Center and El Teatro Campesino. Her one-person play Good Grief Lolita toured the Bay Area and has been published in Puro Teatro: A Latina Anthology. Film and television credits: What Dreams May Come, 8MM, Underwraps, Jack, Radio Flyer, and Nash Bridges. Awards: Marion Ross Award for Good Grief Lolita, Bay Area Critics Award and a Drama-logue Award for outstanding performance (SFMT), the Goodman Award for performance in Mere Mortals at MTC and in Hotel Angulo at Campo Santo.
Armando Rodriguez* (Aegeus) is honored to be back at Magic Theatre working again with Loretta Greco and Luis Alfaro where he was last seen in Oedipus el Rey. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Rodriguez received his BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and moved to NYC residing there for nine years before moving to San Francisco. Armando’s credits include: Paper Doll at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, working with F. Murray Abraham and Marlo Thomas, What a Little Moonlight Can Do at Theatre 22, and Flack at Raw Space. Armando can be last seen in a cameo appearance in the film Beyond Redemption, shot in the hills of Petaluma. Armando would also like to thank his family and friends for their everlasting support. Beware of the Bruja.
Sean San José* (Jason) has worked for the past many years for Intersection for the Arts and is one of the co-founders of resident theatre company Campo Santo. After meeting Luis Alfaro with Luis Saguar more than a dozen years ago, he is honored to finally get to perform in one of his works. Sean is thankful to work with Loretta Greco for the first time.
Sabina Zuniga Varela* (Medea) is thrilled to be working at Magic Theatre. A native New Mexican, Ms. Zuniga Varela won the 2007 New Mexico Hispano Entertainer’s Association: Female Performer of the Year for her roles in Magdalena Cantata (Dolores Magdalena) and Still Life (Frida Kahlo) at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. A 2011 graduate of the University of Southern California MFA program, she had the pleasure of being directed by Kate Burton in Three Sisters (Masha), David Bridel in Forget My Name (Giselle/Nina), and Andrew J. Robinson in Twefth Night (Feste/Antonio). She is honored to have worked at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Sueno (Rosaura) and in the title role of Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad. Most recently she was seen in Tanya Saracho’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, El Nogalar (Dunia), at The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. She would like to thank her family, friends and Matt, and a very special thanks to the talented Cast of Bruja, the brilliant Loretta Greco and the lovely Luis Alfaro. Sabina is a proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association. www.sabinazunigavarela.com
Julie Haber* (Stage Manager) has served as stage manager at theatres around the country, including: The Alley Theatre; Intiman Theatre; Seattle Rep; Seattle’s 5th Avenue (ASM); Berkeley Rep; Magic Theatre (Jesus In India, Goldfish); MainStreet Theatre; American Conservatory Theater (10 productions during her three-year tenure as Administrative Stage Manager); Dallas Theater Center; Laguna Playhouse; Long Wharf; Old Globe; La Jolla Playhouse; Guthrie Theater and Yale Rep. She was Company Stage Manager at South Coast Rep for 20 years, stage managing over 70 productions and overseeing the stage management department. She has also stage managed two operas: Don Juan in Prague (in Prague and at BAM), and Guest from the Future (Bard SummerScape). She received her MFA from Yale School of Drama and has taught stage management at UC Irvine (where she received her BA), UC San Diego, Cal Arts, and Yale School of Drama.
* Member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.
In this, the final Sessions With Magic's Scribes (SMS) interview of the season, Magic Theatre’s NNPN Playwright in Residence Christina Anderson caught up with Luis Alfaro via email..
Christina: Can you talk a bit about what inspired the play?
Luis: Bruja, which is my retelling of the Medea myth, started like all my plays—with a question: what does it mean to live in exile? I’ve been writing in threes for the last few years, and when I got on this Greek cycle—I started with Electricidad (a retelling of Electra), then Oedipus el Rey, and now Bruja—I was anxious to ask a question about how we live today.
With Electricidad, it was about whether we can ever really learn to forgive. In that play’s context, it was girl gang-culture in the barrio. With Oedipus el Rey, I was focused on young men of color and prison—can we ever really leave the life and avoid recidivism?
I have to admit I was lost for a long time, and it eluded me. One day, the director, Loretta Greco, and I went up to the Getty Villa in Malibu, California to visit Greek scholar Mary Hart, who in one way or another has been following my fascination with the Greeks, writing about it, and offering me scholarly advice and history. She even presented a paper about Electricidad at Delphi in Athens! Anyway, spending the day with her talking about Medea and looking ancient art images in paintings and on vases was fascinating.
We also kept looking at images of Cuba, then and now, thinking about the remarkable connection that Cubans have to exile, but honestly, it was not my story to tell.
At one point, Mary said that if I wanted to write an honest portrayal of Medea, I should not make her an old shrew because the truth is that she started giving birth at thirteen and was done by nineteen. So, realistically she would be twenty-one or so at the time of the play, and Jason was actually in his fifties. What?! It always takes just one little piece of interesting information to send us on a journey, doesn’t it? It was enough to get me dreaming. I started thinking and doing a lot of research about immigration and exile..
Christina: Can you talk a bit about the language in the play?
Luis: Well, I love this story about a sorceress scorned, and so I knew I was going to have a lot of magic in it, but I also knew I wanted to go way back—to our roots, our indigenous selves. I started doing some research about Nahuatl, an Aztec language from the south of Mexico and Central America. That fed some approach to the storytelling. I also wanted to give a sense to the audience, as I often do in a play that deals with my bicultural reality, of how some words cannot be translated. I want to give you un sentido, a feeling, so to speak, of what it means to hear the feeling of a word. This is a different play for me because recently I have been writing in Spanglish, a mix of mostly English with Spanish words that defy translation but carry a tone or feeling you understand without knowing the word. In this play, I am really interested in how characters tell stories. I was listening to how the characters spoke and how they told their past. Finding a character’s authentic voice makes for some interesting poetic expression. Or at least I would like to believe that..
Christina: What has your writing process been like?
Luis: Hm, good question. No one ever asks me about process. I guess I would say that I write according to what the play needs. This time around, I was not only writing three plays—but a play in three parts. I think of them as waves. Each wave has a different tone or theme pushing into the next one. On a practical level, I had not written a play at night in a long time, but this one was one of those all-nighters—it kind of shot out of me in big pieces, so I found myself staying up all night. My landlord said I was freaking her out because I kept taking walks at three or four in the morning between writing. It’s true! One morning I was trying to figure out a big part of the play and I walked from my place down to the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, which I think is about three miles or so. But I did it at 2AM. I kept walking into 7-11’s, which I never go to. Life in Los Angeles in the middle of the night is very interesting. Maybe on a very simple level I was looking at the difference between living in the light and living in the dark..
Christina: How's it been in the rehearsal room?
Luis: Amazing, of course. I am a collaborative animal. When I was a poet, I always felt lonely in the quiet of my room or a coffeehouse, but as a playwright you know your silence will eventually be met with community in order for the art to be created. This is very comforting to me. I love actors and writing to their strengths and uses of language. This is maybe the hardest story to tell for me, but I have to say that the rehearsal room has been in a state of ease. The actors ask those amazing questions of character that send you into interesting rewrites, and the director teases tensions out of you for the story, but the truth is that everyone feels very connected to one another. This happens a lot when I work with my gente, my people, we just sort of start someplace after the beginning because the agreements about who we are, the importance of making the work, and the humble privilege of being able to do it together are already present in the room. I mean, not to sound like a cliché, but the first thing we did was make an altar. How much more connected can you be, right? Everyone brought something to contribute to it, so its responsibility and power belongs to all of us. This is wonderfully comforting and relieving for me as the creator of the work..
Christina: Can you talk a bit about being back at Magic?
Luis: Oh my gosh, well, I love it here. It might sound corny, but you can kind of feel the history here. It’s in the air and in the wonderful looseness and worn charm of the space. There is something about the sanctity of it that makes you want to relax and dream bigger. One of the extraordinary things that has happened here, and nowhere else frankly, is that Loretta will commit to producing the play even before I am done. With Bruja it was just an idea before we decided that we could do it. Making Oedipus el Rey was so magical. Not only the process of the play, but the making of community around it was very exciting. Everyone embraced us so wonderfully. I went to local colleges and met with volunteers and I did a ton of research in the city. So, it is not just the play itself, but how we get there. The theatre offered me a residency, which can be pricey in this city in terms of housing and travel—a space to write, readings of the play in its various drafts with local actors, workshops before we got into production, and even access to veteran dramaturg, Jane Ann Crum, who is an amazing artist in her own right. Who does that anymore? Honestly, I don’t know how a theatre this size is able to do it. I was at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles for ten years doing new play development and we didn’t do half of what Loretta does with nothing. I started my career in the Bay Area as a poet and later in the performance art world, but I never did theatre here. So, it feels like personal completion in a way. I also wanted to work with the veterans of the Bay Area and I love that Sean San José, an institution in and of himself, agreed to be in the play. We have known each other for a very long time. I had seen Wilma Bonet in so much, and she did Electricidad at the Mark Taper Forum with me, so it felt like a return to old friends, along with Carlos Aguirre and Armando Rodriguez who had both been in Oedipus el Rey. I have known Sabina Varela since she was a little girl. She was the lead in Electricidad in New Mexico. So, in a way, it was not the beginning, but this feels like an extension of our process together. I have always said that I was born too late because I always wanted to write for a repertory company. In some ways, revisiting with artistic friends is a way of doing that. Loretta Greco and I have been swimming around each other for years. We didn’t just know each other in the art world, we had worked on another play that never got produced, so this feels so good and right to be able to work from start to finish on something..
Christina: How is Bruja similar to your other work? Different?
Luis: Every play is so different. I always seem to surprise even myself when a script finally comes out of me. Sometimes I think I am writing a comedy and it is so not that! I studied with Maria Irene Fornes, one of the great playwrights in the Americas, and she encouraged a process that included taking great risks, seeing yourself in the world, and writing towards something bigger than yourself. I think that the ‘world artist’ idea really stuck with me because although my soul is very much Chicano, my writing is very much a reflection of the worlds I live in or dream about. In the last few years I have been living in complicated cities around the U.S.: Hartford, Tucson, Medford, Houston, etc., and I like how influenced I have been by the country. I like humor, and I like questions. I don’t mind feelings, and I enjoy real problems and watching ideas live on stage that I cannot see anywhere else. So, things get really interesting when I am writing a play..
Christina: If not theatre, you would probably make:
Luis: Money.Kidding. Well, when I was not making theatre I was either working or volunteering at a social-service center of some sort. I used to be a union organizer and worked at a hospice for people with HIV and AIDS. I worked in the youth authority with teen felons, and although I loved it all, but it was not my calling—art is. I would go back to that easily. I was raised in religion, and the notion of service is very important to me. I think that is what I am doing right now. Speaking to my community. Telling our stories. In the old way, but with new ideas! There is something ancient about theatre and truly avant-garde about its power.
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