Engage & Learn

Synopsis and Themes of El Nogalar

Synopsis written by Andrew Knight

This modern adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard takes place on the beautiful but fading estate of Maite Galvan in northern Mexico. Dunia, the young housekeeper, is preparing for the owner’s long-awaited return, but is startled by an unexpected visit from Guillermo Lopez, once a humble worker in the estate’s pecan orchard who is now a successful entrepreneur. Dunia is furious with Lopez for convincing her mother to forbid her to work near the American border; she does not want to be stuck in the same place forever. Lopez reiterates that it is simply unsafe–things are not the way they used to be in Mexico. Even their town is not immune to the influence of the powerful drug cartels. The Maña are now the authorities there, and they do as they wish, taking what they please and killing those who get in their way. Lopez has repeatedly emailed Maite, who lives in New York, to explain the desperate situation, but she ignores his warnings, refusing to look at her home through anything but the rose tinted glasses of memory. The beautiful and free-spirited Maite is irresponsible with her money, and Lopez fears it will not be long before she loses her estate entirely. She must negotiate with the Maña, or they will simply take it by force. Dunia asks Lopez why he is the only one they leave alone. He tells her it is because he knows his place and when to keep his mouth shut – unlike some other people.
Dunia leaves to clean another room. In the playroom she finds Valeria, Maite’s oldest daughter, who stayed to manage the estate in her mother’s absence. Dunia tells her that Lopez said Maite’s flight from New York is delayed two hours. Valeria dreads the car ride to the airport. She is attracted to Lopez – they have had a certain chemistry for years, and she hopes he will propose – but he’s become so quiet around her that the trip will be agony.
All plans change, however, when Maite and her youngest daughter Anita arrive home sooner than expected. Maite jumps from the car and runs into the orchard, rejoicing at the sight of her nogalar (pecan orchard). Half-sisters Valeria and Anita share a joyful reunion, and then the exhausted Anita explains their mother’s unpleasant situation. After she was forced to sell her downtown loft, Maite moved in with her verbally abusive lover. Her financial situation only deteriorated further until she could no longer pay for Anita’s American education. All they have left is the house and the nogalar. Their flight back to Mexico was rerouted, and Pedro, their deceased brother’s former tutor, happened to be at the airport upon their arrival and offered them a ride home. Valeria says this was no coincidence. Pedro is no longer the man he was – he is now a criminal, along with so many others. Anita is confused. Valeria says it can all wait until morning.
Lopez, however, cannot wait any longer to discuss the future of the nogalar with Maite. She tells her daughters his proposal the next morning: Lopez will give the family a loan that they will use to pay the Maña for rent to stay in their house. The surrounding land and orchard, however, will be the Maña’s to do with as they please. Valeria knows it is their only choice and begs her mother to consider it. But Maite is disgusted by the notion of someone destroying the orchard and refuses to give it another thought. The land is like her family, full of memories, both good and bad. That morning, while out for a run, she passed by the spot where her young son Gustavo drowned. Simply handing over such a sacred place to a bunch of criminals is out of the question. Anita, whose life in America has made her feel like a stranger in Mexico, begins to understand the gravity of the family’s situation.

Maite ignores the severity of their current state by continuing to live beyond her means. One evening she asks Valeria to cook her a goat while she reminisces, flirts, and gambles with Lopez and Pedro. While cooking, Valeria notices leaves tangled in Dunia’s hair and, suspecting she has been fooling around with Pedro, rebukes her. She tells her to be careful of getting involved with all these Mafiosos. Valeria fetches her mother, who announces that tomorrow she will speak with Lopez about accepting his offer. Her daughters are skeptical about whether she is telling the truth, but Maite lightens the mood with a dance and suggests they should throw a party.
Lopez is in high spirits, relieved that Maite finally listened to his advice. His friendship with Maite started when Lopez was a boy and Maite defended him from his abusive father. His gratitude turned into a sort of puppy love, but Maite kept her distance, saying, “you can look, but you can’t touch.” He hopes he can convince Chato, a powerful Maña, to save some of the beautiful pecan trees. After all, he loves them too.
The party is thrown a couple of days later, but turns into a waiting game for the Galvan women. When Lopez arrives from his meeting about the family’s living arrangement, Maite runs down to greet him. The news, however, is not what she had hoped for. Instead of the arrangement they agreed upon, Lopez purchased the estate behind the family’s back. Maite is devastated by the news and flies into a rage. Valeria hopes Lopez will let the family continue to live there if she marries him. Maite turns on her daughter–she tells her that Lopez is not interested in Valeria because he’s been in love with Maite all these years. Valeria walks out, Anita follows her, and Maite is left alone.
Lopez stays outside, celebrating his purchase. He is met by Dunia, who heard the news. Lopez defends his actions and assures her he is not trying to evict the family. Chato refused the original proposal, and left with no other options, Lopez offered half of everything he owned in exchange for the estate. That proposal was accepted. Lopez would let the family stay – it is Maite who will not hear of it. Dunia asks if he still plans to marry Valeria. He does. Dunia says they are too different for it to ever work – he needs someone who can truly stand beside him. The nogalar belongs to Lopez now, and Dunia begins to seduce him as the past crumbles around them, giving rise to a new social order.

Themes and Issues in El Nogalar

• The repercussions of one social class usurping another
• The need to preserve memories at any cost, even when things have no apparent function
• How loss can define our life, for better and for worse
• The chaos and resentment caused by a strained social and political hierarchy
• The way women are forced to navigate a “man’s world”
• The impossible and futile pursuit of an archetypal happiness

• Cultural Identity/”authenticity”
• Family and parenting
• Political climate in modern day Mexico
• Old Money vs. New Money
• Class and power
• Mexican culture
• Aesthetic beauty
• Growing up
• Betrayal
• Communication gaps – both literal and figurative
• Denial
• Drug trafficking