The players

El Nogalar was written by Tanya Saracho and directed by Cecilie D. Keenan. It stars Charín Alvarez, Sandra Delgado, Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Bert Matias, Christina Nieves, and Yunuen Pardo. Commissioned by Teatro Vista, El Nogalar is playing at The Goodman Theatre until April 24th.

The play

El Nogalar is a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard,” set in March 2011 in Nuevo León, Mexico. In Anton Chekhov’s play, an upper-class family comes home a few months before they lose their orchard because of debt. Similarly, El Nogalar finds an upper-class Mexican family about to lose their orchard. El Nogalar is a story about family, self-identity and how one defines home when it is set against the violence and drug cartels plaguing Mexico today.

Strengths

I really enjoyed the directing and the interpersonal communication between the characters. Saracho has always had a mastery of dialogue and communication in plays, and it shows in Nogalar, and Keenan brought it out beautifully. The stage design and lighting are striking without being overbearing and with wonderful attention to detail. There is a giant dollhouse that immediately gives the impression of wealth. Sand and broken walnuts line the edge of the stage, bare trees stand in the background, and a soft light gives the appearance of sunset on a warm evening.

The acting was dead on, especially Alvarez as Maité, a matriarch whose world is crumbling around her. Garcia as Lopez played the complexity of the character. Delgado makes you feel Valeria’s urgency of a daughter with the weight of a house on her shoulders, the combination of responsibility and desire to help make everything right. Nieves finds a way to make Anita, the spoiled youngest, completely relatable, and Pardo as Dunia gives the audience a welcoming embrace in a quirky seductive way.

Weaknesses

I walked out of the theatre slightly uneasy, and it took me a while to figure out why. I thought the play itself was very entertaining, and I was definitely pulled in by the drama unfolding. I think what bothered me about the play was the lack of a strong female lead. Maité seemed almost bipolar, Valeria although playing the role of mother to her family, spent her life waiting for a man to save her from being an old maid, Anita wanted to remain ignorant of the world around her, and Dunia reminded me of the negative things that are said about Mexican women. But perhaps that is the complexity of people, the duality of being good and bad and weak and strong at the same time.

Should You go see it?

A very strong yes. El Nogalar is a completely entertaining modernization of Chekhov’s play. Go see it and then come back and tell me what you thought. Did you like it? Am I completely wrong about the female leads? Did you fall in love with the giant dollhouse and want to take it home with you?

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