This weekend, a cast of five directed by Yasmin Ruvalcaba ’17 will put on Cap & Bells’s latest production – El Nogalar (“The Pecan Orchard”) – on the Centerstage at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. Loosely inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and written in 2011 by Tanya Saracho, El Nogalar centers on an upper-middle-class family’s fight to hold onto its land despite the context of present-day Mexico and its violent drug wars. Exploring questions of race, class and gender and focusing on how violence impacts specific individuals in Mexico, this play is in many ways a unique production at the College, according to Ruvalcaba.
“A lot of times, when issues come across into the States, there is a conflict between the hyper visibility of the violence in Mexico and the invisibility of the people affected in Mexico,” Ruvalcaba said. “This play, unlike the media, only portrays the stories of the individuals, and does not showcase the violence that underlies the plot.”
Ruvalcaba proposed to direct this play last spring partially for this reason, but also because of her belief that the content of this play might encourage students – particularly minority students – to audition when they might not do so otherwise. Most of El Nogalar’s cast has very little or no previous experience with theater.
“There aren’t really many plays of people of color on this campus,” Ruvalcaba said. “Students of color aren’t really involved in theater here, and this is why this [play] is something we need to have here.”
Although the play might at times become somewhat inaccessible to viewers who don’t understand Spanish – the play includes more than a few lines of Spanish interspersed with English – or viewers who don’t know the history of drug cartels in Mexico, this does not inhibit any viewer from gaining a general understanding of the plot, and the play largely achieves Ruvalcaba’s aim. It artfully introduces the characters in a gradual manner so as to highlight how different members of Mexican society – the elderly, younger women, domestic helpers and more – experience their world and the violence it contains in very different ways.
Beginning with a scene in which Duña (Paula Mejia ’17), the maid of the household, hums and sways to the rhythm of music playing in a brightly colored set, the play starts with a cheerful ambiance – until López (Brian Benitez ’18), the only male character with a part in the play, disrupts the scene, eventually provoking Duña by continually belitting her as a “little girl.” From this point forward, the ideas of female and male gender roles pervade the play’s plot in a manner that calls these traditions into question.
One of the technical highlights of the play takes place when the mother, Maite (Jacqueline Serrano ’17), and one of the daughters, Anita (Molly Murphy ’19), arrive from the United States at the family’s house in northern Mexico. Ruvalcaba’s rendition of El Nogalar portrays this arrival by taking the characters offstage and allowing the viewers to only hear the cacophony of joyous and angry exclamations (in both Spanish and English). The simultaneous mixing of the two languages really illustrates the conflict and confusion that these characters – especially Anita – experience as they traverse the two cultures.
The characters and the audience expect the unmarried daughter, Valeria (Cecilia Hurtado ’17), to eventually receive a marriage proposal from López and therefore the most promising guarantee of future security. Not everything is how it seems, however. The play ends with a projection that puts the content of the play in a different context – one that you’ll just have to see this weekend, Nov. 19 to 21 at 7:30 p.m., when the ’62 Center hosts El Nogalar.
With a few days of rehearsing left to go for the cast, designers, artists, stylists and managers working on the show, the students involved in this play will continue to fine-tune their roles and will no doubt leave audiences this weekend asking questions that they may not have asked before.