BVU Theatre Presents ‘El Nogalar’ in Spanish, English

The play follows the fictional Galvan family, which moved from northern Mexico to the United States, only to return to Mexico due to financial hardships. Performances take place Nov. 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. in Anderson Auditorium.

Buena Vista University Theatre makes some local history this week as it presents a play staged in full in two languages, carried out by five bilingual performers.

“El Nogalar,” a fictional play by Tanya Saracho, is performed in both Spanish and English. Dr. Bethany Larson, BVU professor of theatre, directs the production, which shows at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7-9 in Anderson Auditorium. The house opens each evening at 7 o’clock. Admission is free for the production, which is for mature audiences.

“We’re trying to incorporate the community with what we do in theatre here at BVU,” says Larson, a longtime resident of Storm Lake, one of Iowa’s most ethnically diverse cities. “I read this play a long time ago, and I was taken by the realness of the characters and the struggles they face. It’s a good opportunity to shed light on the stories of those who aren’t always represented.”

“El Nogalar” follows the fictional Galvan family, which moved from northern Mexico to the United States, only to return to Mexico due to financial hardships. Upon their return, the Galvans discover their family orchard under threat from local crime. The Mexico they left behind, they quickly learn, is vastly different, much more dangerous due to the prevalence of gang activity and drugs.

“This is the first time I have ever looked at a character and thought, ‘Wow! That’s me!” 

Matthew Marroquin

“It is not a sad play; it’s a frustrating play,” says Kenya Ortega, a BVU junior from Norwalk. Ortega uses the word “authenticity” in describing her reaction to the plot.

“If you look at the border between Mexico and the United States, the drug trade and the cartels are very real, and the play specifically deals with that,” says Dr. Jared White, BVU assistant professor of Spanish.

White was originally tapped by Larson to aid in translation. He soon became enwrapped in ‘El Nogalar.’ And while it is ordinary for a play to feature a technical director or a lighting director, the role of language director, White’s primary responsibility, isn’t so common.

“Dr. Larson asked me to come and help with some of the language parts,” says White, who has a background in theatre. “I ended up getting so involved, and it’s been a treat for me to watch these actors and actresses grow.

“As a Spanish professor, I am very interested in this. These are issues very near and dear to my heart,” White adds. “So, I’m very happy to participate and connect with this beautifully diverse community here in Storm Lake.”

Students perform in a play
BVU students Matthew Marroquin and Alondra Melendez rehearse a scene.

Matthew Marroquin, a sophomore from Storm Lake, echoes the sentiment, and finds agreement with this fellow actors, all first-generation college students, in describing “El Nogalar” as an accurate representation of culture and language, and, most importantly, stories.

“This is the first time I have ever looked at a character and thought, ‘Wow! That’s me!” says Marroquin, who helps coach the speech team at St. Mary’s High School in Storm Lake.

“I was born in Storm Lake, but I grew up in Mexico,” adds Mariana Gonzalez, a BVU junior from Storm Lake. “My family and I experienced the crime first-hand; drugs, robberies, graffiti, all of that. I empathize with the story and what the characters are going through.”

Larson says she and the BVU Theatre Department will continue to consider productions that bring diverse communities within the region together. “El Nogalar” may represent the start. “I want to see if we can do a full Spanish play,” she says. “We’ve had several conversations around that topic. For us, it seems like a next step.”

This first step has meant the world to Alondra Melendez, a freshman from Storm Lake, who says her father will get a sense of fulfillment while she feeds her passion in taking the stage in “El Nogalar.” While her mother is bilingual, Melendez’s father speaks primarily Spanish.

“I felt bad (in past shows) because I knew my dad wouldn’t be able to completely understand,” she says. “This play presents an opportunity for both my parents to understand and appreciate what I’m doing.”

For information about the production, contact BVU Theatre at 712.749.2211.