Alarcón states the theme in a succinct sentence, "…how the audience affects a performance, how differently we behave when we know we are being watched." Written in first-person POV and past tense, the story is told some time later, "This was years ago…" The narrator was twenty-two years old and traveled from the capital city with his father to a small town south to close the house of a recently died great-uncle. Arriving from the big city to the small town where Nelson's father had been somewhat of a local celebrity or home boy who could do good and return with his new skills and help his hometown. He did not return, resentments built. Discussions between the locals and Nelson, the faux-expat, and his father, the escapee, is often uncomfortable and the provincialism becomes another theme of the story. Nelson--with his father's encouragement--pretends to be his brother Francisco. The memories of the locals are incomplete and truncated. They do not remember Nelson so he plays along using details from his brother's letters to tell his story. Acting for an audience, we could say. Performing. One of the themes of the story is acting, performing, giving the audience what they want and the way that we all do this at times. Sometimes it's rude to attempt to correct or deny the incorrect memories of elders, old friends or previous neighbors.
Another theme I detect is that of brotherly relationships and jealousy, competition and pride. Nelson, with his father as conspirator, pretends to be his brother and states, "…the role I'd been preparing for my entire life." Then read another way, his father is giving his son the opportunity to act as that is what he is trained to do but has to work in a photocopy shop for which his father is not proud or approving. Or, perhaps his father wants to see if his son is actually talented at acting.
The story is thirty pages long and includes an eight page play which I think is fine except that for the next two pages Alarcón reiterates what he portrayed in the play. I felt that was unnecessary. "The Provincials" was first published in Granta magazine and subsequently accepted for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories, 2013.
"It happened instantaneously, on a sandy street in this anonymous town: we were no longer accidental observers of an argument, but the primary reason for its existence."
Wikipedia page about Alarcón
the author's web page