CHAUTAUQUA - If you thought the wild, Wild West was a romantic idea from times past, the Chautauqua Theater Company has a production on their stage that will certainly change your mind: ''The Guadalupe,'' is a new play being workshopped by the company, written by New Mexico native Carol Carpenter.
The plot is fairly simple. Susy Valle-Northrip gets out of bed in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, and then life goes downhill like a roller coaster, for Susy and her entire family.
The Northrips own a small farm on which they grow chilis, in the southwestern U.S., very near the Mexican border. Susy and her husband, Freddy are the parents of two grown children: Ricky and Veronica. Each of their children has a live-in ''significant other,'' and Ricky and Lucia have one baby, while Veronica has at least two.
What starts the family on their precarious night is that Susy glances out the window and sees eight members of a drug cartel, all armed with automatic rifles, approaching the house. For the rest of the play, the family tries to guess what the cartel wants with them, and whether they should try to escape, or defend themselves with gunfire, or try to bargain with the invaders.
The decision-making process leads to a great deal of accusation of one another. Veronica works for the border patrol, and her boyfriend is a policeman. Does the cartel want to make an example of some kind of statement by attacking them?
Ricky once joined the military, but he deserted. Now he is a criminal with a record, and can't get a job, much of anywhere, so he has been planting a few marijuana plants in among his father's corn crop. Has he sold too much, or failed the pay the right cartel protection money?
There are more such problems among the family, and they need to figure out which is the problem causing their home to be attacked, while there is still time.
The action, with Ethan McSweeny's skilled direction, is most believable. The set, by designer Izmir Ickbel, is extremely versatile, and both establishes the setting and provides natural mobility for the cast of seven.
The cast is experienced and mostly well-suited to their roles. Those would include Stuart Margolin, whose outstanding Willie Loman lighted up the Chautauqua stage, just a few years ago, as the sheriff. Also, Dan Butler, as Freddy. Butler has had a distinguished career on the stage, and may be best known for his character ''Bulldog,'' on the television series ''Frasier.''
Others are Socorro Santiago as Susy, Claudia Acosta as Veronica, and Toby Onwumere as her boyfriend. The rest of the family were David Anzuelo as Ricky, and Susana Batres as his girlfriend.
''The Guadalupe'' is a New Play Workshop, meaning the play has not yet been professionally produced. The company only started rehearsals on Monday of this week, and Thursday evening's workshop was the first time they had run the play all the way through. There were some problems.
When one of the first lines in a play is ''Hit the lights,'' that means that although lighting designer Kristin Neu used limited lighting in a most creative way, still, actors and audience were in the semi-dark uncomfortably long. Also, because of the setting of the play, a great deal of the dialogue was in Spanish, and even the English was heavily accented, and sometimes hard to understand. That made the tortuous inter-relationships of the characters even harder to sort out.
The production repeats today at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 2:15 p.m. on the stage of the Bratton Theater, on the Grounds of Chautauqua Institution.