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Medea en el espejo (1959), José Triana

English title: Medea in the Mirror
Date written: 1959
First production date: 1960
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > crime, morality > justice-revenge, morality > vice-virtue, violence > social, violence > revenge, identity > class/social standing, identity > race, family > marriage, family > parents and children
Genre and type: tragedy

First performed in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution, Medea en el espejo was immediately banned by the Castro administration.  In this radical re-working, Euripides’s myth tranforms into a penetrating look at Cuban social reality.


‘In Euripides’ play Medea is a princess from Colchis, a sorceress who has married Jason, leader of the Argonauts, after helping him to obtain the Golden Fleece and to bring about the death of his uncle, Pelias, in order to put Jason on the throne.  As a result of the murder, however, Jason was obliged to flee and subsequently met and married Creusa, daughter of the King of Corinth.  Consumed by her desire for revenge, Medea murders her own children.

Triana’s version contains no royal characters.  His play is set in a ‘solar’, the kind of tenement building with which he had been familiar as a boy and which he revisited  by way of preparation for writing the play. The characters are a cross-section of the lower end of Cuban society, as well as of Cuba’s racial mix.  Medea become Maria and, far from being a princess, is a ‘mulata’, the daughter of one white and one black parent. The wife on Antonio is also a ‘mulata’ Señorita Amparo is a ‘mestiza’, the daughter of Indian and white parentage.  Erundina, Madame Pitonisa and Doctor Mandinga are black.  The barber, Julián, and Perico Piedra Fina are white.  As far as the events of the play are concerned, Maria takes the same revenge as Medea and is similarly emotional.  Julián, though not heroic in the Jason mould, is just as selfish in abandoning his wife for someone else.  And Perico Piedra Fina, far from being a king, is an unscrupulous landlord and crooked entrepreneur, exploiting the poorer Cubans in order to further his own ends.

[...] Maria comes across as a woman torn throughout by conflicting emotions: love for Julián, anxiety over his disappearance, disbelief at the news he has abandoned her, and insatiable desire for revenge, and final desperation. Erundina, her servant, emerges as a practical, common sense woman, the very opposite of Señorita Amparo, whose excessive politeness and refinement lead to a long-windedness which is the source of much comedy. Perico Piedra Fina is a complete cynic, someone who believes that every man has his price and that he, a self-made man, has the fate of others in his hands.  And Julián, given a smaller role than Perico, is entirely superficial, an opportunist, a ladies’ man whose showy chain and flashy rings embody his nature.’

(Edwards, 2004: xxiii)(Vargas Llosa 2004)

  • Vargas Llosa, Mario. 2004. The Methuen book of contemporary Latin American plays, trans. Gwynne Edwards. London, Methuen

  • Triana, José. 1991. Medea en el espejo; La noche de los asesinos; Palabras comunes. Madrid, Editorial Verbum

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Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 18 June 2012.

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