TR Robertson — The latest play at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, “Native Gardens”, will have you laughing hysterically, agreeing with one couple and then changing your mind and siding with the other couple the next, all while a variety of social and moral issues are tossed out, one after the other, in rapid fire succession. This comedy, directed by award winning Edward Torres, deals with a slew of issues ranging including class, cultural differences, ethnicity,age, politics, immigration, discrimination, sexism, stereotyping, and more.
“Native Gardens” was written by Karen Zacarias, initially developed in the Globe’s 2017 Powers New Voices Festival. Zacarias was born in Mexico and was the winner of the National Latino Playwriting Award and the 2018 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Original Play for “Ella Enchanted”. “The American Theatre” magazine says she is considered one of the most produced playwrights in the U.S. “Native Gardens” is slated for 15 additional productions this year.
Photos courtesy of The Old Globe
The comedy centers on an upwardly striving Latino couple, the Del Valle’s, who have just moved into an established, upscale neighborhood, by purchasing a fixer-upper, and their older neighbors, the “WASPie” Butley’s, who have lived in this neighborhood for years, establishing a prime, proper, neatly manicured home. Tania and Pablo Del Valle want to create their “American Dream” home, but Pablo, who works in a prestigious law firm, throws Tania a curve by inviting his employees over to his home for a barbeque, which means the couple must first concentrate on their unkempt backyard. This situation is further complicated by the fact that Tania is pregnant and set to deliver very soon. Next door lives the Butley’s, an older couple, well established in the community. Their backyard is Mr. Butley’s pride and joy. Each year he enters the community contest for best yard, as his neat, manicured yard and he means to win the prize this year. An ugly chain link fence, covered in English Ivy, separates the yards. As the Del Valle’s begin their desire to establish a low maintenance native garden, they discover their yard actually extended two more feet into the Butley’s yard. At this point, all hell breaks loose. After a very cordial wine and cheese meeting of the two couples, nothing will be the same for quite some time as their differences in everything imaginable begins to surface. The building of the fence, conflict on leaving an old oak tree standing and the old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors” will be tested beyond anything imaginable.
Barbs, sarcastic comments, clever comebacks will begin to point out the significant differences between the two couples. But, this comedy is more than a comedy about the differences between the generations. Both couples will begin to see just how much they don’t know about one another, their cultural differences, and just how far they can push each other’s buttons before frayed nerves explode and feelings hurt to the point of no repair. The slow motion “fight” scene toward the end of the play was a perfect ending to the building conflict between the two couples.
Veteran actors and actresses handled this fast paced, witty, highly emotional play with ease. Playing Frank Butley, a retired business executive, was veteran television and theatre actor Mark Pinter. Pinter returns to The Old Globe after performing in “Red Velvet” in 2017. His portrayal of the pompous, “uppity” Frank was done with so much sincerity we couldn’t help but like him, as we laughed at him, especially at his “Everything we love is bad” speech and the “border dispute over immigrant plants”. Playing his wife, Virginia, was Peri Gilpin, Roz from the Emmy Award winning television show “Frasier”. Gilpin has been on numerous television shows and films after training at the Dallas Theater Center as well as the British American Drama Academy in London. As Virginia, Gilpin was equally “uppity” as the still employed engineer who had an answer for everything. There is no question who was in charge in the Butley household. She manipulated Frank at every turn and was the driving force in this trivial dispute.
The Del Valle’s were played by two performers new to The Old Globe stage. Playing the Chilean lawyer husband Pablo was Eddie Martinez and playing his wife, Tania, was Kimberli Flores. Martinez is an ensemble member of Chicago’s Teatro Vista and has also performed in plays and television/films throughout the country. Flores has also performed in a number of theatres, television and film productions. Their portrayal of the millennial, upwardly mobile couple striving to make a better life for their family was magical. Their exuberance both in simple discussions of their dreams for their property and when they were involved in dealing with the Butley’s was over-the-top wonderful and very entertaining.
As good as these four actors and actresses were, the audience favorite for this evening was the two gentlemen playing the gardeners/fence builders. Using an almost militaristic intricacy, quickly paced, and with precise “dance” routines, the two young men, without saying a word, moved in, out, and around the set removing plants, fence, planting new plants, measuring and setting up their construction with ease. Both men are making their Old Globe debut. Jose Balistrieri and Alexander Guzman did not miss a beat in their “gardening dance”. Guzman is a native of San Diego, appearing in many local theatres and Balistrieri is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, also appearing in several local theatres.
The intimate theatre set was designed by Collette Pollard. Quick costume changes were designed by Jennifer Brawn Gittings. A most effective series of lighting techniques was designed by Amanda Zieve with sound by Mikhail Fiksel.
This wonderful comedy definitely will make you think about a wide range of issues that can separate neighbors. Emotions rise to the point of being describe as the “passionately rational vs the irrational”, with leaving out common sense. You will laugh, but then you will reflect.
“Native Gardens” will run at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre until June 24th. Tickets can be purchased at www.TheOldGlobe.org or call 619-234-5623.