El Nogalar at Goodman Theatre | Theater review
Tanya Saracho’s Mexican transfer of Chekhov is intriguing but uneven, as is Cecilie D. Keenan’s production.
Beset by financial troubles, an imperious woman returns to her childhood home, where, with her two daughters, she strives in vain to hold onto her family’s…pecan orchard. Saracho’s beguiling but uneven new play probably sounds a bit familiar; to the frame of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, though, she’s added some intriguing filigrees. Back in Nogales, Mexico, from the posher environs of the States, Maité (Charín Alvarez) and her family and friends flip breezily between Spanish and English, lending the piece a refreshing bicultural flavor. And while Chekhov’s Russian backwaters were transformed by the death of serfdom and the rise of capitalism, Saracho’s Nogales owes its makeover to the more ominous apotheosis of the drug cartels. Maité’s alone in her old home because the city’s former ruling class has been burned or shot out of its mansions.
While El Nogalar’s overall conception offers plenty to think about, dramatically it could use a sharper focus. The scenes between half-sisters Valeria (Sandra Delgado) and Anita (Christina Nieves) too often devolve into aimless chat, missing the subtextual depth that powers Chekhov’s deceptive surfaces. A crucial late-developing subplot involving family friend López (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) and Maité seems to arise from nowhere. Keenan’s production mirrors the script’s ups and downs; anchored by Alvarez’s sizzling turn as the matriarch and supported by clever design by Brian Sidney Bembridge, it nails the high points but goes slack in between.