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World Premiere of El Nogalar at Goodman Theatre Depicts Issue of Drug Cartels in Northern Mexico

By Regina M. Torres
On May 3, 2011

Imagine a play set in present-day northern Mexico, inspired by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and you have El Nogalar-something intriguing, if not thought provoking, written by Mexican-border-born Tanya Saracho. The resemblance between both plays is the theme of the despair suffered by a dwindling aristocracy, given the context of turbulent social and economic times.

Saracho places the setting for El Nogalar (Spanish for "the pecan orchard") in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where the fictitious Galvan family is desperately trying to hold onto their family's long-standing pecan orchard. The demand for drugs stemming from the United States has created an abundance of dangerous gun-wielding drug cartels, called capos, who have taken over routes in northern Mexico leading into the U.S. at any cost, including the lives of the surrounding area's residents. The gangsters have managed to drive out most all the people living in Nuevo Leon—except for the resilient Galvan family.

The Galvan family consists of the mother, Maite (played by Charin Alvarez) who, like her daughter Anita (Christina Nieves) chooses to ignore the impending threats that await their beloved property. They are joined by Anita's sister, Valeria (Sandra Delgado), the loyal but tormented-by-circumstance realist, the housekeeper, Dunia (Yunuen Pardo) who provides comic relief and Lopez (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia), the intense, potty-mouthed opportunist. All reside inside the Galvan homestead and its grounds.

It is through the aide of props, such as a largely constructed Mexican style dollhouse set inside an old abandoned playroom, that audience members are taken on a journey alongside each character involved, both in their history regarding the pecan orchard and the current state of affairs that force each person to reconcile their attachments to the place.

As a result of Maite's purposeful ambivalence toward the threats that wait to take over, an upstart transpires, culminating in the individual severing off of ties with a romanticized and forsaken past, as well as a questionable future. The modern day insecurities and losses that are depicted in El Nogalar are as real onstage as they are in the real life situations faced daily by people living in Northern Mexico. However, what makes this heavy material palatable is the combination of superb acting, which uses comedy to lighten the heaviness of the subject matter.

The female-heavy cast is balanced out, for better or worse, by the character of Lopez, a well-to-do, hot-tempered, chauvinist who curses in his opinions. Nonetheless, this play is centered on the female characters of mother, daughters and housekeeper, each of whom have very unique ties to the homestead, as well as varietal classes which leads to different takes on the problems at hand-el nogalar, and all its inhabitants who face great jeopardy.

El Nogalar is a serious play with plenty of comical elements that takes a good hard look at the intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts people go through given harsh circumstances. This is a work that explores class and sex differences, pitted against personal histories and agendas and it makes you realize that what we choose to acknowledge as present day circumstance must be sometimes sidetracked by our past memories and experiences (and vice-versa). Overall, El Nogalar offers an artful and passionate glimpse into the hearts and minds of a changing and struggling Mexico.

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