Tag Archives: Chicago

Veteran TV producer and showrunner Clifton Campbell joins Fountain Theatre Board of Directors

Clifton Campbell and Kim Academy Awards cropped

Clifton Campbell and his wife Kim at the 2017 Academy Awards. 

“The feeling I get sitting in a theatre just before the houselights fade is one that is very personal for me,” admits TV producer and writer Clifton Campbell. “Excitement for what’s about to unfold. The anticipation of bold ideas told through flawed and deeply human characters promising to take me to a richer understanding of a world outside my own. In that moment, I sit wondering not if this play is ready for me; but if I am ready for this play. For the shared human experience you can only get from live theatre.”

It is clear that the Fountain Theatre is ready for Clifton Campbell. The Fountain is pleased and honored to announce that veteran TV producer, showrunner and writer Clifton Campbell has joined the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors. 

“Cliff is passionate about developing a new program to engage parents who have children wanting to be writers,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “He is also committed to building a bridge between the Fountain Theatre and the TV industry. He is eager to guide the forming of new relationships between the Fountain and TV professionals. Cliff is a smart guy with decades of experience as a TV producer, and his heart has never left the theatre. We are thrilled to have him on our Board of Directors.”

Clifton Campbell has enjoyed a career in television spanning more than 30 years. Recently, Clifton was Executive Producer for the TV series Sleepy Hollow.  He was also Executive Producer of White CollarThe GladesProfilerWiseguy, and others. He has partnered with such producers as Steven Spielberg, Stephen J. Cannell, and Michael Mann. 

Clifton was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida. He graduated from Florida State University and moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a playwright.

“The early eighties was an amazing time for theatre in Chicago,” remembers Campbell. “I was witness to ground-breaking new works and game changing productions from companies like Steppenwolf, St. Nicholas, The Goodman, Body Politic, Wisdom Bridge and Victory Gardens, all of whom were leading the charge in a new age of Regional Theatre. The six years I spent in Chicago theatre was the greatest education of my life.”

His work as a playwright caught the eye of producer/director Michael Mann, landing him a writing job on Mann’s TV series Crime StoryClifton‘s writing career took off and escalated to TV producing, but he always remained a theatre guy. He also became a family guy. Clifton and his wife Kim have been married for sixteen years and together have three grown children; Bailey, Jordan and Paige.

“The Fountain Theatre is everything I think of when I remember those incredible days back in Chicago,” says Campbell. “I am proud and excited to be joining its Board of Directors. ” 

Diversity is a Noun, Not a Verb

by Carla Stillwell

Carla Stillwell headshot-thumb-166xauto-95

Carla Stillwell

Let me  get transparent with you.  I cannot stand the word “diversity.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know what it has become code for.

For the first thirty minutes or so of a plenary [at a TCG Conference in Chicago three years ago], there were several accomplished men and women of color sharing some of their experiences with diversity, or the lack thereof, in the theater community. The conversation from the panel quickly became a call to action to the executive and artistic directors in the room to make the American theater landscape match the general population in cultural and gender representations. Then it happened. A middle-aged white man from a theater company in Minnesota stood to speak. He said that he would love to put more “…blacks on stage” but he knows that that would mean that he would lose his audience base because they wouldn’t be able to “…identify with those types of stories.”  Hmmm…in that moment it became painfully clear to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to add cultural and gender specificity to America’s theatrical landscape. People are bandying about the word “diversity” without having a real understanding of what the word means. Without a true understanding of the word, we certainly cannot move to a place of honest dialogue, and without honest dialogue we will not achieve real change.

So let’s start with defining the word “diversity.” Dictionary.com offers the following:

di·ver·si·ty [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-]  noun, plural di·ver·si·ties.

1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:diversity of opinion.

2. Variety; multiformity.

3. A point of difference.

I find a few things notable in this definition. The first is that diversity is defined as a noun and not a verb. This means that it is a state of being and not something you do. Hence one cannot perform diversity. This definition suggests that to simply do things that we think seem diverse (i.e., color blind casting) isn’t enough. The definition suggests that to achieve diversity, you have to accept difference as the rule and not the exception. Diversity has become code for throwing cultural and gender difference at a white wall and hoping that the differences stick, but being OK when some or all of them simply slide to the floor.

Per the aforementioned definition, diversity at its core means that there are a variety of things that make up a whole that have different shapes, forms, and kinds. So I think it is safe to say that a state of being diverse can only be achieved if there is variety. We have attempted to achieve diversity by keeping most things in American theater culturally homogenous and adding a dash of difference. But the definition of the word diversity lets us know that this type of thinking is topsy-turvy.

Then there is this third part of the definition, “a point of difference.” A “point” is defined in its second definition as, “a projecting part of anything.” From this one can infer that diversity is the center, the focal point, from which difference and variety project. We have attempted to introduce diversity into the American theater landscape without diversifying the centers of artistic decision-making (producers, artistic directors, board of directors, etc.) in our theatrical institutions. How can we project difference into the entire theatrical experience when the points are culturally homogenous?

I have been at the center of many of these conversations about diversity. But I believe that none of these conversations will bear the fruit of change until we all embrace the state of being diverse and stop acting out diversity.

Carla Stillwell is a theatre director, playwright and performer. She is the Managing Producer for MPAACT as well as a Playwright-In-Residence and Resident Director with the company. Additionally, Ms. Stillwell is a teaching artist for MPAACT and The Steppenwolf Theatre.

‘In the Red and Brown Water’ Playwright Will Next Tackle Shakespeare

Tarell Alvin McCraney

In the Red and Brown Water playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney will direct and adapt a new production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as part of a collaboration among the Public Theater, GableStage in Miami and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Public announced on Monday. The play will have its premiere at the Stratford-Upon-Avon home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Mr. McCraney is an artistic associate, in November 2013, before being staged in Miami in January 2014 and later that month at the Public.

In addition to directing the production, Mr. McCraney edited the text, reordered the scene structure and relocated the play to “the late 1700s against the backdrop of Saint-Domingue, on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French,” according to a news release. Casting will take place in London, New York and Miami, Mr. McCraney’s hometown.

Artistic leaders from all three companies say their faith in and admiration for McCraney is what led them to say yes to the collaboration.

Oskar Eustis

“One of the beautiful things about this is that it was driven by Tarell,” says Oskar Eustis, artistic director at the Public, which has presented all three of McCraney’s reputation-making Brother/Sister Plays. “The key to all of this is that we’re unabashed Tarell McCraney fans.”

“Tarell was our playwright in residence, and I wanted to see his take on Antony and Cleopatra,” emailed Michael Boyd, former artistic director of the RSC, who commissioned the script, adding that he was seeking “a bold new take on this difficult play.”

For GableStage’s Joseph Adler, McCraney’s Antony and Cleopatra is an opportunity to build on a relationship that began last season with McCraney’s staging of his The Brothers Size and this season with a January-February production of Hamlet, a 90-minute adaptation McCraney and Bijan Sheibani wrote for the RSC.

The Public’s Eustis explains why a McCraney Antony and Cleopatra set in Haiti is so appealing to him.

“This isn’t an idea you’d lay on top of the play. It’s not a contemporary, lively, anachronistic setting,” he says. “This is something that will allow people to hear this play differently. This brings it closer and makes us understand colonialism.”

“Tarell has a deep sense that his work is in service of something much bigger than himself. He’s trying to answer to an artistic imperative. It makes you want to throw your weight behind him,” Eustis says.

“His life will get more complicated, but one still feels the purity of that vision. Not just for his sake, you want to hold him out as an example that you don’t have to sell out to be a success.”

Tarell Alvin McCraney

A 2007 graduate of Yale, Mr. McCraney is best known for his trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays.  His other plays have been produced at major regional theaters throughout the United States and in England.  McCraney’s  play, Choir Boy, opened at London’s Royal Court Theatre to rave reviews.

Commissioned by New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, where it will get its U.S. premiere with previews starting June 18 and an opening July 2,Choir Boy is set in a black boys’ prep school celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The headmaster’s nephew is at odds with Pharus, a gay student with a glorious tenor voice who is determined to become leader of the school’s famous gospel choir.  In her review in The Guardian, critic Lyn Gardner writes: “Threaded with searing gospel songs, McCraney’s play examines the shifting nature of truths, biblical and otherwise, and cleverly manipulates the hot-house setting to consider wider issues of black American history, from the brutal days of slavery to Obama’s cry of ‘yes we can!'”

His newest play,  Head of Passes, which will have its premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago next year.

“In the Red and Brown Water” (Fountain Theatre, LA Premiere, 2012)

The Foutain Theatre‘s Los Angeles premiere production of McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water is a critical and popular smash hit, earning rave reviews  including Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.

Stephen Sachs

“We’re thrilled with the overwhelming response to the play,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “And proud to be the theatre that introduced this important new playwright to Los Angeles audiences. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Tarell. The Fountain is his home in Los Angeles.”

In the Red and Brown Water is now playing  to December 16th, call (323) 663-1525 or buy tickets.

Fade In: A Playwright Moves to Hollywood

by Brett Neveu

FADE IN.

That’s how all of them start, the scripts I write for my LA projects. It’s also how I’ve felt since moving from Chicago to Los Angeles. As if my life were a closed aperture with a really, really long release, my time here has slowly been coming into focus. What remains unclear is what comes after the shot is complete and the first scene begins. But that’s not what I’m looking to discuss just yet. This is about what comes before the shot. That slow fade. That build to first page. The beginning of the story. The how I got here in the first place, what I’m thinking now and what comes next.

When I left Chicago, I had a ten-month old daughter, many Chicago storefront theater productions and a severe antsyness from spending the entirety of my life (up to that point) in the Midwest. I also had a strong desire to try my hand at film and television, something I had only tested and played with during the previous ten years. Heading out, I thought I had more than enough clues about what my future could hold if I only did what I’d done in Chicago. If I continued writing, meeting people and getting better at my job, then surely there would be LA-based writing work to be found.

Then came the writer’s strike.

Then came the recession.

Then came the city of Los Angeles.

Basically—then came life.

If there’s any bit of advice I would give about being a playwright in LA, it would be this: when one moves to LA, life does not suddenly stop. I don’t mean that life itselfwill stop, I mean that your new Hollywood career will not be your only focus. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, my hope being I would be able to dive headfirst into the world of TV and film and let everything be carried away with the current. But life’s current is full of rocks and brambles and discarded plastic bags and who knows what else. Los Angeles is a city, but a different city than Chicago, New York or any place else that I have been to or know of. It has a rhythm that one has to truly root through and discover, much like one of those hidden object puzzles I used to ponder over as a kid in Highlight’s magazine. Comparing this hidden-object lesson to my time in Chicago, my writing life suddenly felt quite different. Perhaps it was the social aspect of rehearsal (and post-rehearsal) that made theater more engaging. Or perhaps it was the hands-on, do-it-yourself determination that can give theater (even in the biggest of houses) a weird, gritty momentum. Or perhaps I hadn’t truly thought of writing as a job, and since moving to LA, it had become just that. There’s a weight to that thought. A heavy weight. A heavy weight that never really goes away and creates a palpable squishing of ideas, thoughts and feelings reverberating through all Los Angeles coffee shops, gyms and bars. But that’s not entirely a complaint. That’s just a fact. LA is full of professionals (those gainfully employed or those “between jobs”) and the production of entertainment in LA is a citywideprofession. Thinking otherwise (and how can you not every once in awhile?) will only make you long for the days when theater could be a playwright’s only focus.

As my time in LA continued, my “fade in” began to open further and I gained more insight into keeping my writing-brain energized and from seeping out of my ears to a puddle on the floor. My mantras became:

1. Expunge the Desperation. After having numerous meetings with executives from across the spectrum of television and film, I learned a desperate writer is an unwanted writer. The suits can spot your “oh crap I need a job” vibe from in the lobby, so maintaining (or faking) ease is your best bet. I’m told often that show runners love playwrights, so know that you’re entering a meeting because you’re respected for what you do. Let that respect carry you. Be seen as a peer and not a just lowly cog in the machine.

2. Keep Writing. The first year I moved to LA, I thought, “Okay! Here I am! I’m a writer!  I’ll go and find me a writer job!” It obviously doesn’t work that way. Just like the rest of the world, Hollywood employers often have all the employees they need and a backlog of friends (or friends of friends) who are just waiting for a slot to open up. The same crop of writers is nearly always looking for a new gig and if you’re new to town, you’re hopping into the unemployment line right along with them. There is a chance you might get a break and have something come along quick or it might be ages until you get noticed. The best solution is to keep writing. Whether it’s a spec pilot, a new play, a daily blog or just some ideas scribbled in a notebook, continue to put fingers to keyboard. Because the moment you stop doing your job, then the frustration and isolation of this company town will start to make you feel you’ve nothing to offer. But you do. There’s a reason a playwright comes to LA (and it’s not to surf). Write, goddamnit. Write.

3. Maintain Theater Relationships. Once you’ve left your city or town of choice and headed west, make sure to keep your theater relationships from dying on the vine. There have been times I’ve backed away from my playwriting career to focus on television and film only to find I needed to get back into the thick of what theaters are doing and think about who I should send a few scripts out to. Because I’m one of those folks who have always considered the theater my family, I felt shocked and lonely in its absence.. Once I realized that leaving town didn’t negate those family ties, I reconnected with the theater artists I care about and enjoy working with. The result is a healthy playwriting career and a burgeoning film and television career, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

4. Question Praise. Before moving to LA, I’d come on a visit and met with a guy from my old agency who told me he was my television agent. He took my wife and me out to dinner and laid on the praise like thick chunks of Philly Cream Cheese. With a twinkle in his eye, he promised money out the wazoo and a house in the hills. This scared the crap out of me, as it should any writer. True praise never comes easy and never comes quick, especially from someone you’ve just met. Only in the rarest situation does a writer “sell the idea in the room.” Often your writing (or your pitch or your staff meeting) passes through multiple brains and hands before it’s either taken on or rejected (most often, like playwriting, rejection is the result—but at least in TV and film, the rejection is quick). Go to meetings, do your best, and always challenge the hype.

5. Have Fun. There are many LA-type activities that your typical new-to-town theater artist doesn’t typically participate in, mostly because your typical new-to-town theater artist was typically at the theater, in rehearsal or at a bar. The beach (seriously, it’s like a freakin’ vacation twenty minutes from your apartment and it’s free), the art museums, the little towns surrounding the city and even LA’s own weird and wonderful history can wrap you up in oddly interesting ways. Ignore your career for a few hours (or days) and go outside. You’ll discover a major reason many people really like living here.

These suggestions come from my experience of learning to “fade in” here in Los Angeles. It’s taken a number of years to semi-understand the ins and outs, but the ability to adapt is a big part of semi-understanding. Just like when a writer begins a script, we know we still have a whole hell of a long way to go. But at least we’ve got our opening shot.

Brett Neveu’s work has been seen at many theaters, including The Royal Court Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, The House Theatre, The Inconvenience, The Goodman Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, TimeLine Theatre Company, A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theatre Company. He is a 2012 Sundance Institute Ucross Fellow and the recipient of the Ofner Prize for New Work as well as the Emerging Artist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres. Brett has been commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Writers’ Theatre, Strawdog Theatre and has several of his plays published through Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing and Nick Hern Publishing. He is also a proud ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre and currently lives in Los Angeles.

Saracho’s “El Nogalar”: Chekhovian Mexicans Via Chicago

by Stephanie Jones

If Anton Chekhov were Latino, playwright Tanya Saracho would have him covered. El Nogalar, her Mexico-set spin on the Russian classic The Cherry Orchard, comes to the Fountain Theatre by way of Chicago.

Saracho wrote the play in 2004 while performing as an actor in Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The LA-based Alfaro was then in the last year of his co-direction of Center Theatre Group’s Latino Theatre Initiative. At his urging, Saracho took the story she had in mind and went to work.

“I feel like when I met Luis, that’s when everything happened,” says Saracho. “He actually took me aside and said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you need to get serious about this writing thing.’ Because it’s not that I wasn’t serious. I had my own company [Teatro Luna] and we devised work, so we did ensemble-built performance. But as a playwright, I hadn’t written any plays by myself. But he was like, ‘You can do this.’”

Tanya Saracho

With Alfaro on her side, Saracho told herself:  “If El Maestro can do it, let me try it.” Alfaro has continued his guidance on the play, serving as the dramaturg for the Fountain production.

As an actor, director, and playwright, Saracho was able to remain hands-on throughout the development of her play. “All my three passions – they let me do all three things, which is very Chicago” — where theater artists tend to be hyphenates, she says. “They’re not one thing or another and it’s respected. It [prevents] pigeonholing yourself.”

The small Chicago company Teatro Vista commissioned El Nogalarin 2005. But Teatro Vista and the Goodman have a history of collaborations, and soon the Goodman expressed interest in it.

Saracho felt somewhat intimidated by the Goodman label. “I was like, ‘No, no. It’s the Goodman. The Goodman should not read my play.’” But at the same time, “it was really more than encouraging. It was like the seal. ‘Here you go.’ I mean people read plays and that doesn’t happen. Nice things like that keep happening. It just opened a lot of doors.”

Diana Romo

The Goodman, which produces Latino Theatre Festivals every two or three years,  “totally watched me and let me kind of do anything and just provided a stage. [That] was the biggest thing.”

Despite the encouragement Saracho received, she originally held back some of the play’s content. That was made clear at a reading of the first draft.

“I thought it was terrible. In the first version, I was really afraid of the crime element. I just adjusted it. It wasn’t as overt as it is now,” says Saracho. “I was like – when I first heard it – ‘What am I doing? Why am I a coward right now? I’m being a coward.’ ”

After some much needed character development and a little soul searching, El Nogalar was on its way. It received a staged reading at the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival, with the premiere following in spring 2011, produced by Teatro Vista and presented by the Goodman, at the Goodman.

“When I started Teatro Luna in 2000, our [Latino] audience was not used to going to the theater. We went to concerts, we went to dance, but theater was not where we put our disposable income as Latinos and the Mexican community,” says Saracho. “They would go see comedy but not theater. So, it took us a while to kind of nurture [them], and now they follow me to stuff and they also watch out for other [playwrights]. The movement took about 10 years and now we’ve trained the audience, [saying] ‘Look, this could be awesome.’”

Sabina Zuniga Varela, Justin Huen

Saracho was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but moved with her family to McAllen, Texas — near the Rio Grande — in 1989. She majored in theater studies at Boston University. El Nogalar traces its roots to Chekhov, whom Saracho named as one of the few writers she identified with while in college.

“I’ve always talked about at cocktail parties and to anyone who would listen – ‘You know, Chekhov is basically Latino.’ In college, he was the most Latino playwright I came across, which is a bad thing — that I didn’t get exposed to Latino playwrights in college, because I was just identifying with any old Russian,” says Saracho. “The women, I identified [with them]. They resonated. They seemed familiar. They seemed Latin American. They’re full, rich, passionate, confident, flawed, complicated and they’re highly emotional. Highly flawed but really deep.”

El Nogalar tells the story of the Galvan family in northern Mexico, who have come home to claim their pecan orchard (“el nogalar”) after 15 years. Maite, the family’s matriarch, and her daughters return after squandering the family’s savings only to find the orchard overgrown, only two servants, and the land taken over by local drug cartels.

Laurie Woolery

Director Laurie Woolery, who is also associate artistic director of Cornerstone Theater,  speaks up. “How easy the land can be taken from people in Mexico and Central America is really, for me, what resonated because I know my tia and mother as immigrants – when they came her to the United States – it was all about [buying] land. Buy land. Own land here. Because in Mexico [and] Central America, it can be taken away from you. Even if you own it, it can be taken away. For me, what resonated about this piece is investment in the land, in the earth, where you plan yourself, where your family can grow up out of.”

The play also has present-day implications, especially in light of current conditions in Mexico and the large Latino population in Southern California. According to Saracho, characters like Dunia, the female servant desperately trying to help the Galvan women, represent people currently surviving in Mexico.

But the play as a whole makes a political statement, she adds. “It is always a political act to put brown bodies on stage. And we don’t think about it because we [Latino playwrights] are used to putting brown bodies on stage. I’m so excited that we’re putting five brown bodies on the stage.”

“I’m going to call the Fountain a mainstream theater because it’s not a Latino space or a [African-American] space,” Saracho says. “To have us here, I feel like it’s representing more than just these people. It’s representing a community, obviously not speaking for, but to have those actors. And Latina females – Latina director, Latina writer, a Latina stage manager. There’s something political about that, without seeing the play, but because of that I think it’s important.”

The all-Latino cast consists of Sabina Suniga Varela (Dunia), Yetta Gottesman (Maite Galvan), Isabelle Ortega (Valeria Galvan), Diana Romo (Anita Galvan), and Justin Huen (Lopez) with Frederica Nascimento designing sets and Lonnie Rafael Alcarez designing lighting.

Diana Romo, Yeyya Gottesman, Isabelle Ortega

“I think our Latino community here in Los Angeles is really diverse,” says Woolery, “and one thing that I really applaud the Fountain for is wanting to expand the diversity of their season by putting El Nogalarin. I’m excited for the Fountain audience to be able to experience something different. Even within that Latino cast there’s diversity in it. I know that the play is very specifically placed in Mexico, but I love that the casting was inclusive and I’m just hopeful that people are going to come out and see it and support it. I think it’s an incredibly beautiful play.”

Woolery adds that “what’s exciting about playwriting specifically right now is the new voices that are coming out. I mean, who would have ever thought wrestling would make it onto the stages of the theater world [in Kristoffer Diaz’sThe Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity] and be up for one of the top prizes in the country? And I think that gives me great hope for theater in general because so much of what you hear [is] it’s such a struggle to keep a theater open and running and people coming because movie tickets are $15. So, you’ll spend that but will you spend $15 on a play?…How do we encourage people to keep coming back and having that experience?”

Yetta Gottesman

In LA, more than in many cities, notes Woolery, “Geography is a challenge, because “for us to go out and support each other’s work…sometimes just getting across town will take an hour. But I think there is a spirit of people wanting Latino theater to be successful. So, I’m hoping not the just the regular Latino audience but others who don’t necessarily feel that theater is for them will come and see El Nogalar and that there’s an accessibility for audiences to be able to come and feel like their story’s on stage. That there is a place for them in the theater world, that their stories can exist and have value.”

Saracho points out the growing struggle between the theater experience and the virtual experience.

“We just don’t sit and witness and experience the full experience [outside theaters],” she says.  “The person coughing – that is part of the experience. The person unwrapping the [wrapper], the actor that kind of flubbed a line. All that is live theater. [Film] is so perfect for you on the screens. It’s all cut up for you – cut, paste, and done for you, all the thinking. But in this, you’re going to see some cellulite, you’re going see some split ends. Do you know what I mean? It’s real people up there.”

El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525  More Info

Stephanie Jones writes for LA Stage Times.

Tanya Saracho’s “El Nogalar”: Chekhov Set in the Mexican Drug Wars

by Steven Leigh Morris

Tanya Saracho

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.

Diana Romo, Yetta Gottesman, Isabelle Ortega in "El Nogalar"

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.

El Nogalar opens Sat., Jan. 28, at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; through March 11. (323) 662-1525, fountaintheatre.com.

Steven Leigh Morris is the Theatre Editor for LA Weekly