Mindful Metropolis April 2011 : Page 36

art & soul el nogalar Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho’s south-of-the-border version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard by ThoMas connors T here’s nothing wrong with not be-ing original. After all, Shakespeare stole like mad. And countless artists have pinched from Shakespeare ever since. Whether it’s whipping up West Side Story out of Romeo and Juliet, or turning Les Mis-erables into Les Miz, jumping off from prov-en material is a standard operating proce-dure in the arts, a strategy that satisfi es the creative instincts of the theater artist while off ering audiences a fresh way to appreciate age-old truths. Take Anton Chekhov’s Th e Cherry Orchard. First produced in 1904 un-der the direction of Constantin Stanislavski, this “comedy” about an aristocratic family who can’t make the mortgage on their cher-ished home, has come in for some interest-ing adaptations. David Mamet took a crack at it back in 1985, in a production for the New Th eater Company of the Goodman Th eatre. And playwright Tom Stoppard brought his own dizzying gifts to it in a 2009 production. Next up? Tanya Saracho, the Chicago playwright whose south-of-the-border version— El Nogalar —opens at the Goodman Th eatre this month. Set in northern Mexico, El Nogalar (pecan orchard) borrows the essential drama of the Chekhov original, but invests it with a con-temporary urgency. In Saracho’s version, a well-off Mexican family returns home from the States to discover their own precious property is under threat, not from creditors, but narco thugs who want to cultivate the land for their own nefarious purposes. A co-production with Teatro Vista, El Nogalar is the latest work from this very busy playwright, whose credits include Our Lady of the Underpass and an adaptation of the Sandra Cisneros novel, Th e House on Mango Street. And while Th e Cherry Orchard, with its focus on the social un-certainties that arose with the emancipa-tion of the Russian serfs and the rise of a bourgeoisie, might seem an odd attraction, the playwright notes that Chekhov has long fascinated her. “When I was in college, we weren’t introduced to a lot of Latino play-wrights and to me, Chekhov was the most Latino playwright I encountered. How he dealt with class, how he dealt with gender. How his characters spoke. Th e women of Th e Th ree Sisters —they could be wishing for Havana rather than Moscow.” In devising her rendition of Chekhov’s story, Saracho not only transferred it to another time and culture, but eliminated all but one of the male characters. “I tried to do a four person piece, just women, but some-one had to buy the orchard,” she laughs, “so I had to put a man back in. “Th e thing is, I just love stories of women, of how women sur-vive. Th at’s what drew me to this in the fi rst place. Th ere were tons of dudes, but I never understood what they were doing there. I mean, I knew what they were doing there, but to me they were a lot of clutter. I mostly write for women. It’s not a political strategy. I just love women and am attracted to our stories and our points of view.” El Nogalar Running through April 24, 2011 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. , Chicago goodmantheatre.org Th omas Connors is the Chicago editor of Playbill . He writes regularly on the visual and performing arts and his work has appeared in a number of publications, including Town & Country, Art & Antiques, American Th e-atre, and Michigan Avenue. 36 april 2011

El Nogalar

Thomas Connors

Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho’s south-of-the-border version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard<br /> <br /> There’s nothing wrong with not being original. After all, Shakespeare stole like mad. And countless artists have pinched from Shakespeare ever since. Whether it’s whipping up West Side Story out of Romeo and Juliet, or turning Les Miserables into Les Miz, jumping off from proven material is a standard operating procedure in the arts, a strategy that satisfies the creative instincts of the theater artist while off ering audiences a fresh way to appreciate age-old truths. Take Anton Chekhov’s Th e Cherry Orchard. First produced in 1904 under the direction of Constantin Stanislavski, this “comedy” about an aristocratic family who can’t make the mortgage on their cherished home, has come in for some interesting adaptations. David Mamet took a crack at it back in 1985, in a production for the New Th eater Company of the Goodman Th eatre. And playwright Tom Stoppard brought his own dizzying gifts to it in a 2009 production. Next up? Tanya Saracho, the Chicago playwright whose south-ofthe- border version—El Nogalar—opens at the Goodman Th eatre this month.<br /> <br /> Set in northern Mexico, El Nogalar (pecan orchard) borrows the essential drama of the Chekhov original, but invests it with a contemporary urgency. In Saracho’s version, a well-off Mexican family returns home from the States to discover their own precious property is under threat, not from creditors, but narco thugs who want to cultivate the land for their own nefarious purposes.<br /> <br /> A co-production with Teatro Vista, El Nogalar is the latest work from this very busy playwright, whose credits include Our Lady of the Underpass and an adaptation of the Sandra Cisneros novel, Th e House on Mango Street. And while Th e Cherry Orchard, with its focus on the social uncertainties that arose with the emancipation of the Russian serfs and the rise of a bourgeoisie, might seem an odd attraction, the playwright notes that Chekhov has long fascinated her. “When I was in college, we weren’t introduced to a lot of Latino playwrights and to me, Chekhov was the most Latino playwright I encountered. How he dealt with class, how he dealt with gender. How his characters spoke. The women of Th e Th ree Sisters—they could be wishing for Havana rather than Moscow.” <br /> <br /> In devising her rendition of Chekhov’s story, Saracho not only transferred it to art & soul Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho’s south-of-the-border version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard by ThoMas connors another time and culture, but eliminated all but one of the male characters. “I tried to do a four person piece, just women, but someone had to buy the orchard,” she laughs, “so I had to put a man back in. “The thing is, I just love stories of women, of how women survive. That’s what drew me to this in the first place. There were tons of dudes, but I never understood what they were doing there. I mean, I knew what they were doing there, but to me they were a lot of clutter. I mostly write for women. It’s not a political strategy. I just love women and am attracted to our stories and our points of view.”

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