The Austin Chronicle

El Nogalar

Teatro Vivo's bilingual Chekhov reboot provides a context for examining social class in contemporary Mexico

Reviewed by Adam Roberts, June 19, 2015, Arts

When I texted my friend, a Spanish-English translator, for the meaning of "El Nogalar," she replied "nogalar = pecan orchard." Ah, it clicked! Teatro Vivo was producing a new adaptation of Anton Chekhov's seminal (and final) play, The Cherry Orchard, penned by McAllen-raised writer Tanya Saracho. Like many of the allegorical correlations chosen with such care throughout her play, Mexico's pecan trees would take the place of those that bore cherries in Chekhov's Russia.

Directed with a loving and highly personal touch by Rudy Ramirez (be sure to read his director's note in the production's playbill if you attend), El Nogalar provides a strikingly intimate and welcoming bilingual context for examining social class in contemporary Mexico, paralleling the themes explored by Chekhov in The Cherry Orchard's Russia more than a century ago. Ramirez's very skilled cast (Yesenia Yadira Herrington, Krysta Gonzales, Olivia Jimenez, Gricelda Silva, and Jesus Valles) delivers the story deftly, set against yet another of Ia Ensterä's beautifully inspired and final scenic designs to appear on an Austin stage prior to returning to her native Finland. Patrick Anthony's lighting – particularly the distinctive patterns chosen to texturize the Mexican American Cultural Center's stage – partners with Ensterä's symbolic set and Ramirez's vision to unify the play's physical context.

Jessica Gilzow's carefully researched and constructed costumes complete the picture, and fittingly so, as pictures are a crucial trope in Ramirez's interpretation of Saracho's text. What's especially striking about Teatro Vivo is the company's consistent ability to deliver a repertoire so intrinsically tied to its mission, and productions that achieve the ability to communicate very specific cultural references across such a wide swath of audience demographics. Although the company achieves its mission on stages throughout the Austin area, there is something particularly special about experiencing its most recent offering in the space of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The company has continued to hone who it is and what it does, and Artistic Director Rupert Reyes and his team have achieved ever-growing success in sharing the company's vision with the Central Texas community. El Nogalar represents yet another feather in Teatro Vivo's cap, and it celebrates the steady increase in quality of production elements and overall impressiveness that every theatre troupe hopes to see as its trajectory.

Still, a Russian period piece transported to contemporary Mexico might seem an unlikely scenario. But in a 2011 New York Times article about El Nogalar, Tanya Saracho is quoted as having once remarked, "The most Latino playwright I encountered in college was Chekhov." And thanks to Teatro Vivo, Austin audiences now have the opportunity to appreciate this sentiment firsthand.

El Nogalar

Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River
Running time: 1 hr., 50 min.

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