KAREN ZACARIA’S KEEN NEW PLAY ‘NATIVE GARDENS’ IS A COMEDY THAT SHAKES THE AMERICAN DREAM
WASH D.C. IS THE PERFECT HUB OF POLITICAL TENSION TO BUILD A WALL BETWEEN NEIGHBORS
The Margret Lesher stage at CenterRep has been transformed into two Washington DC backyards to host the Hatfield and Mccoys of the Trump era. The smart new play NATIVE GARDENS is now on stage at CenterRep in Walnut Creek through November 16th. This comedy by Latinx playwright Karen Zacarías is an upbeat workout of the American Dream. Zacarisa says writing a comedy is harder than drama “In this political climate now, we’re all looking for a reason to laugh. This play does that it shows that despite our differences, we’re part of a great community.”
Directed by the clever Michael Butler who cast a keen company of four actors who turn up the heat at this Garden dispute. Butler says Zacarias investigates humor “she writes NATIVE GARDENS a comedy which quickly goes on to be one of the Top Ten Most Produced Plays in America, she hit a nerve.” The Garden in this story of two families is a dandelion of weeds a time bomb; it’s cheerful and sunny on the surface, but dig deep and you’ll discover the dirt of our current times.
The setting is an upscale neighborhood famous for its location to our Government's White House and hub of politics. A stately Washington neighborhood where the story is set with an elite list of residents including congressmen and lawyers. The conflict is based on a clash of cultures, values, outlooks, and political issues, all heightened by status conscious neighbors in a sought after place to live. The plot is simple, best summed up with four words: New neighbors, old neighborhood. An up-and-coming young couple, the Del Valles, take possession of a fixer-upper. Pablo is a driven new lawyer, and Tania is a very pregnant Ph.D. candidate in anthropology working on her dissertation.
The enthusiastic Raul Ramon Bencomo and the terrific Livia Gomes Demarchi play the new home owners. The Del Valles come from two different backgrounds, yet they are both Hispanic and feel constant discrimination pressing and threating their dreams. Next door meet Frank and Virginia, an older couple on the brink of retirement, are white establishment Republicans, kindly but entitled. They obsess over their good looking house and backyard, especially former government worker, Frank. Played by the ideal J Michael Flynn he is so busy smelling the roses in his retirement he turns gardening into a stressful competitive sport. Virginia, played by local favorite Domenique Lozano is an engineer working for a defense contractor. She has qualities that helped her to succeed in a male-dominated career; she wears the pants in the family.
The Butleys initially welcome the Del Valles to the neighborhood with a bottle of good wine and a box of fine chocolates, a friendship they try to revisit throughout the two act play. Soon a squabble between the two couples develops over a disputed property line and class. “But you are Mexican-American aren’t you?” Frank asks and Tania asks “Do you introduce yourself as English-American?” she continues; “My family has been in the same region for over two hundred years, where I am from was originally part of Mexico, then it became part of the United States. We never immigrated. Yet because of how I look, my nationality is always in question.” The property line becomes a feud that includes a chainsaw, a chained protest, and the removal of the chain link fence that started it all. While words, flowers, and weeds fly, Director Butler has added an excellent team of gardeners/scene changers to lighten up Sean Fanning’s amazing, authentic set.
The energized Justin Lopez, Carleena Manzi, Carleena Manzi and Glenn Delos Santos dance to Carlos Vives “Hoy Tengo Tiempo” as they build the fence, choreographed by the sizzling, Kevin Grulwell. As they dance to the lively Bomba Estereo “So Yo” during scene transitions while preparing the “wall” and counting down to the final showdown. The tempo is ebullient and the mood infectiously danceable. The highlight of the yard fight is Zacarias’ marvelous dialog and quick comebacks and sitcom style word battle.
Set designer Sean Fanning is a Walnut Creek native who has gone on to design professionally some amazing work; his set is a show stealer. The authentic setting including a life size oak tree is superb, and Wen-Ling Liao’s lighting design with rich blues, the outdoor feel is stunning. Costumes by Michael A Berg reflect the high end look for the Butley’s and the urban class of the Del Valle’s. Stage Manager Anastasia O Wirth kept the three member fence builders prop heavy as they dance the fence posts in place. Properties Designer Alyssa Tryon has a huge task of keeping the flowers in bloom and the garden chairs flying. Sound Designer James Goode pumps the Latin soundtrack that cheers on the dance team.
NATIVE GARDENS offers a refreshing take on current events with an optimistic message that might be a bit predictable but well staged. It is a reminder that while good fences make good neighbors, building a wall only serves to strengthen fear and separation. The answer maybe to agree on a shared vision, we can plant the seeds for a new American Dream and cultivate a better future for us all. Next up at CenterRep is their annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL that opens Dec 12th. In 2020 IN THE HEIGHTS comes to the Walnut Creek Stage May 22. In the meantime, don’t miss the feud of the fall NATIVE GARDENS and bring your own chainsaw.
CENTER REP PRESENTS
By Karen Zacarías
Directed By Michael Butler
Choreography by Kevin Gruwell, Scenic Design by Sean Fanning
NOVEMBER 16 2019
Center REPertory Company Margaret Lesher Theatre
1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek
One Act 90 minutes no intermission
Photo’s by Sean Fanning and Mellophoto
*Karen Zacarías interview courtesy of San Jose Mercury
VMEDIA ARTS Go See A Show - visits with the cast opening night with host Xun Zhang
Raúl Ramón Bencomo*, Livia Gomes Demarchi*, J. Michael Flynn*,
Domenique Lozano*, Justin Lopez, Carleena Manzi, and Glenn Delos Santos