Goodman’s “El Nogalar”: After the Translation, Mucho Gusto!

Based on Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard,” playwright Tanya Saracho tells the story of a Mexican family’s legacy being disrupted by drug cartels.

A poor carpenter becomes a hired gun. Shifting power and money is changing the roles of the working class and the privileged in modern day Nuevo Leon, Mexico. A mother and daughter return to their ancestral home to find it under attack. Goodman Theatre’s world premiere of “El Nogalar” (translation: Pecan Orchard) is a threat on homeland security.

The production is a hard nut to crack. English and Spanish are co-mingled for a beautiful lyrical sound. Unfortunately, the rich Spanish layer adds to the confusion. Initially, it’s nutty trying to figure out the family tree. The authentic heavy accents even make names difficult to determine. What’s your name? How are you related? Are you a servant? Director Cecile D. Keenan keeps the pace quick, not allowing the audience to catch up. Once the assigned roles are translated, the culture shock wears off. The bi-lingual approach proves poetic.  

The entire talented cast engages with humor and individual style.  Charin Alvarez (Maite) is a standout as the would-be matriarch. She electrifies the stage with her big personality. Alvarez enthusiastically exudes a mean-spirited core wrapped up in a party girl frock. Yunun Pardo (Dunia) is hilarious as the housekeeper that loves all things American. Pardo’s transformation from simplistic to manipulative is a subtle flirtation.               

Once the shell is broken, “El Nogalar” is a tasty slice of Mexicana.  Go into the show, knowing that the cultural immersion may be challenging but will result in a genuine mucho gusto!       

“El Nogalar” plays March 26 to April 24 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. Running time is 95 minutes, no intermission. Tickets are $10-$42, and may be purchased by calling 312-443-3800 or visiting goodmantheatre.org.

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