Amidst run down houses, cracked sidewalks and an occasional homeless person or two stands an odd building, lighted just enough to stand out. On the side of the building tucked just far enough so you can see it only if you’re looking for it, is an illuminated sign that says “The Fountain”. On Fountain Ave in Hollywood is this amazing little theater, The Fountain Theater is in it’s twenty second year of productions and they have awards displayed in the lobby to show that they are no ordinary hole in the wall theater. Currently playing is the West Coast Premier of Tanya Saracho’s EL Nogalar (The Pecan Orchard), The Fountain has transformed it’s entire tiny theater into the house and surrounding orchard of Los Nogalar for this production.
El Nogalar was inspired by Anton Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard, not being extremely familiar with that play I will not be comparing them in this review. My biggest critique of this show is the casting, not because of the skills or talent of the actors, but because of the age. The cast consists of four women and one man, two of the women are supposed to be the daughters of Maite (Yetta Gottesman), who appears to be around the same age as her “daughter” Valeria (Isabelle Ortega). However, if one can look past the age of the actors then you can truly be transported in this city in Mexico being overtaken by the cartel.
Brought back together by the threat of losing the family’s Pecan Orchard, the women who barely ever got along must face each other and their fears in order to try and save their land. The acting is stellar and the incredible and versatile facial expressions of the family’s maid Dunia (Sabina Zuniga Varela) almost steals the production away from everyone else. Varela is obviously having fun with her role, and it is fascinating to watch her character develop and grow throughout the performance. Staying right by her side with a heartbreaking performance is Ortega, who shows the pain and shyness in the eldest sister Valeria. Ortega is in utter hysterics listening to her mother and she has the audience crying, gasping and laughing alongside her.
What brings this production full circle is the beautiful set and exquisite lighting. Though one is forced to use their imagination when the stage is set the same way but is sometimes used as one room, two rooms or even outside of the house, for some reason it works. Perhaps it is the enchantment the actors put on the audience, or perhaps it is because everything is so colorful and so sparsely staged that it is not hard to realign the rooms. With tree branches all over the outside of the house, in hallways and on the side of the theater it is easy to be transported to the orchard. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz has lit the production with perfect elegance. Providing eerie backdrops to emotional flashbacks as well as having perfect timing with the constant battle of having light son or off in the house.
Though this production does have some flaws and will probably have you discussing them in great details after the show with others, it is definitely worth going. Take a trip to the heart of Hollywood and enter the world of El Nogalar, and perhaps save sometime after the show to go upstairs and have some cake and coffee in “The Fountain’s” café, it will be a great night of theater I can assure you that.