Mexican-born Chicago-based playwright Tanya leverages a literary classic to spotlight the wrenching effects of Mexico’s drug wars.
“El Nogalar” (“The Pecan Orchard”) is her loose adaptation of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” and Austin’s Teatro Vivo gives the 2011 play its Austin debut at the Mexican-American Cultural Center in a production directed by Rudy Ramirez running through June 20.
Instead of Chekhov’s debt-ridden Russian aristocrat returning from Paris to reconcile with her family’s soon-to-be-repossessed estate, Saracho’s play finds the well-heeled Maite (Yesenia Grace Herrington) returning to her ancestral estate in Northeastern Mexico with her Americanized youngest daughter Anita (Gricelda Silva).
Gone for years, Maite is clueless about what her eldest daughter Valeria (Olivia Jimenez) has had to deal with since remaining in Mexico: Namely, the increasing pressure from drug cartels who want the rural property for their territory, with or without the family’s consent.
Maite and Anita have been living the high life in the United States, while Valeria has watched the estate fall into debt as the narco violence get ever closer.
Complicating the narrative, Valeria childhood friend Lopez (Jesus Valles-Morales) is now a henchman for the cartel edging the family off its land. Lopez is a beneficiary of the new narco class — a once lower-class boy done good as a man now well-paid and made powerful by the cartel. Indeed Lopez’s backstory, though not expanded, offers the most trenchant narrative in the play.
“El Nogalar” debuted in 2011 in Chicago and has been staged in New York and Los Angeles. Saracho — who currently writes for HBO’s “Looking” and “Girls” — saw her play “Mala Hierba” premiered Off-Broadway last year.
While it’s topical and topically trenchant, “El Nogalar” remains an imperfect play. Despite Ramirez’s enthusiastic direction and the cast’s exuberant energy, nuance and depth loses out to exposition.
Nevertheless, “El Nogalar” tells an important story.
“El Nogalar” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 20. Tickets $14-$20 (Thursdays pay-what-you-wish). Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 River St. https://teatrovivoatx.wordpress.com/