by Steven Leigh Morris
Though Tanya Saracho is 35 and has lived in the United States since she was 12, she still isn’t a citizen, holding only a green card. Deeply grateful to the United States for the life she’s lived here so far, she finds the citizenship process now administered by the Department of Homeland Security a bit daunting.
Born in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, she grew up in the adjoining border towns of Reynoso, Mexico, and McAllen, Texas; her father still works on the Mexican side. Saracho has been tentatively crossing borders ever since, including literary borders — among contemporary Latino literature, classical Spanish plays and even Russian classics.
Hollywood’s Fountain Theatre is presenting her play El Nogalar (The Pecan Orchard), based on Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, starting this week. (The play premiered last year in a joint production between Teatro Vista and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.)
“When I was in school, I didn’t get exposed to Latino playwrights,” Saracho explains. “I got exposed to [Spanish classical author] Lope de Vega, but not the modern ones. When they introduced Chekhov, we read The Cherry Orchard. I kept saying, ‘Oh my God, this guy is Latino. The women, the way they lamented, the way they whined, it seemed very Latino to me.”
Saracho moved to Chicago because of its reputation as a serious theater town, and there she formed her own company, Teatro Luna, where she mostly performed solo shows. At one point, she says, “I said, ‘In this company, we’re going to adapt The Cherry Orchard to Latino.’ ” Eventually the more established Teatro Vista company got involved and helped make it happen.
In her adaptation, she says, “I got rid of the dudes. I never understood what the dudes did. The first version was all women. Lopahkin can’t touch the women because of the class thing,” referring to the grandson of a serf kept at a distance by the play’s aristocrats as “vulgar.” “So I consigned him to monologues.”
But it was the maid, Dunyasha, who became the playwright’s obsession — “how she became a survivor,” Saracho says, after having been jilted by the servant Yasha, who doesn’t appear in Saracho’s version. “Yasha could have been a coke-head, I guess, but I cut out all the men.”
The play is in English, but peppered with Spanish and Spanglish. “Nobody’s going to miss a thing,” she says.
The bank doesn’t foreclose on the orchard, as it does in Chekhov’s play. Rather, a drug cartel causes the family to part with the property.
Saracho plans to stay in L.A. for a while, thanks to a literary agent and the hope of another border crossing — from theater to TV and film.