PLANTS THOUGHTS IN OUR MINDS
By Iride Aparicio
Photos by Kevin Berne
The Cast of “NATIVE GARDENS” presented by Theatre Works
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA --People love gardens so there are many different gardens. There are rose gardens, tulip gardens, and some gardens, that instead of flowers, grow Cacti. Maybe because of it, gardens have been used as a metaphor by poets and writers, that instead of flowers, plant thoughts on the people’s minds.
American new playwright and National Latino Play writing-Award winner KAREN ZACARIAS, apparently did just that when she wrote her comedy, NATIVE GARDENDS, because her work left the audience pondering about many subjects.
NATIVE GARDENS,the second play in TheatreWorks 49th Season, is listed in the program as a comedy, but the words in its dialogue make the audience think, and when the audiences start thinking they may discover that the play is a metaphor of the times we are living in.
The playwright, who was born in Mexico City, may have used the back yards, of two houses in Washing D.C. located a few feet away from each other and separated by an old wire fence, to makes us reflect. She
creates the conflict, by having the border fence erroneously placed a few feet away from the house it belongs to, thus adding a few extra feet of land to the neighboring house. To complicate matters, the neighbors with a bigger yard, had used their extra feet of land to plant an “English-style garden.” Next to the fence.
Since the comedy is short, the conflict starts immediately. Surveying the back yard of the house they just bought, and measuring their yard, the young couple discover that their neighbor’s beautiful garden against the fence, is actually planted on their land.
The structure of this comedy is clever, because using the "neighbors" verbal fights, ZACARIAS manages to touch subjects related to race, prejudice, human stereotypes, and fences, in her actors' dialogue. Being current issues, the audience can easily relate with them, specially with their border’s problem. So, when the comedy makes some members of the audience laugh, and discard the issues as funny, others may even plant them in their minds.
There are four main characters in NATIVE GARDENS. Two of them are The Butleys, Virginia (AMY RESNICK) and her husband Frank (JACKSON DAVIS). The couple have lived in their Washington D.C. house for a while. Both are elderly. Both are retired. They represent “The Old Generation."
Amy Resnick and Jackson Davis as Virginia and Frank Butley
We don’t learn much about their background, except that both are English descendants, well-educated old-fashioned and have their own prejudices against “different” people. By looking at them, it is easy for the audience to detect that both had a good upbringing, by the way they are dressed, by their manners, by the neatness of their back yard, and by the beauty of their garden.
The young home owners are the Del Valle family (pictured left) Tania, (MARLENE MARTINEZ) a doctoral candidate from New Mexico, who is pregnant with her first child, and her husband Pablo, (MICHAEL EVANS LOPEZ) a new lawyer in a Local firm. All we know about him is that he belongs to a high society family in Chile (South America) who dislikes his choice of wife.
When they move into their new house, the house that has been empty for a while, looks bad, and Tania, who we see walking in her backyard wearing garden boots, describes it as a mess.
Dirty with leaves and old furniture, is also their back yard. The only thing growing on it, is a tall oak tree next to the house. Tania loves the tree and tells his neighbors that she plans to convert her garden into a “Native Garden.” They hate the idea.
The Butleys also dislike their new neighbors because the are Hispanics, but as educated people belonging to the upper middle-class, they are polite enough to invite them to have tea with them in their garden.
And it is during their conversation in that first encounter, that their dislike becomes obvious to the audience. When we listen to their dialogue, (that was not audible at times to the audience sitting on the right side of the theatre, because the four actors are sitting on the back yard of the Butley’s home which is located on Stage right) is easy for us to detect Virginia’s innuendos, and even her prejudice when she, politely, asks Tania if she is from Mexico. (All we know is that Tania’s family is Mexican, but that Tanis was born in New Mexico).
The comedy has no villains and no heroes, and being a comedy, the characters have no depth, but it keeps the audience entertained with “the border issue” and wondering what would be the Butley’s reaction when they are informed that Frank’s beautiful English garden may have to go because it was planted in the land that legally belongs to the Del Valley’s property.
Frank(Davis) examines a surveyor’s report as Pablo (Lopez) and Tania (Martinez) discuss their property line.
So, even when the two couples try to be civilized with each other and maintain their composure, we see many angry confrontations between them. Most are verbal, others almost physical. There is destruction of private property, and almost an act of vandalism when Virginia, holding an electric saw with both hands, climbs over the Del Valle’s fence, walks to their oak tree and starts sawing its trunk.
And through the characters' dialogue, their words, like seeds, are tossed on the soil of the gardens in our minds. We continue receiving bits of truths coming to us from two different and conflicting points of view.
Masterfully directed by AMY GONZALEZ, and perfectly acted with naturalism by every one of the actors, which also include LAURA ESPINO and MAURICIO SUAREZ as landscapers, the comedy keeps the audience laughing, thinking and thoroughly entertained.
The set (designed by Scenic Designer ANDREA BECHERT) representing the two houses and their backyard is realistic, and the garden, filled with different flowers, marvelous. As a comedy, NATIVE GARDENS, which was developed in the Old Globe Powers New Voices Festival, may be described as an entertaining, funny and thought provoking play.
And those of us familiar with the term deux et machina from the Greek dramas, may even recognize its ending as Greek, because its conflict gets resolved, with the intervention of God.
NATIVE GARDENS will continue at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041 until September 16, 2018. For information or to order tickets call (650) 463-1960 or go online to TheatreWorks.org.