By Karen Isaacs
Do fences make for good neighbors? Gardens? Ivoryton Playhouse’s excellent production of Native Gardens through Sunday, June 12 answers that question in a comedy/drama that pits neighbors against each other.
This classic newcomers vs oldtimers story is set in an upscale Washington, DC neighborhood where the two couples almost come to blows despite everyone’s attempt at reconciliation.
The first thing you will notice entering the theater is the terrific set by Daniel Nischan of the back and side yards of two homes. One, a brick home has a profusion of flowers and a neatly manicured lawn. The other is in need of work; the house needs painting, there is a chain-link fence that is partly falling down, and the yard looks long ignored.
But don’t blame Tania and Pablo who have just bought this fixer-upper. The young couple is about to welcome a baby and Tania has big plans for the yard. Tania is finishing her dissertation and Pablo is working for a prestigious law firm where he hopes to make partner.
Their neighbors, Virginia and Frank have lived there for years – Frank is semi-retired from the federal government and devoted to both his garden and besting a nearby neighbor in the annual “best garden” competition. Virginia is an engineer for a defense contractor and has the scars from years of being passed over and put down because of her gender.
You would think that these two couples would be able to coexist. But there are several flies in the ointment. The first is that Virginia and Frank assume the young couple is Mexican and they keep stumbling into repeated stereotypes. In reality, Tania is from New Mexico and Pablo is from a wealthy Chilean family.
The other minor stumbling block to a good relationship is Tania’s commitment to using native plants of the region in her garden. She is appalled that Frank’s garden is totally comprised of non-indigenous plants and that he uses pesticides.
But the biggest problem is when the young couple goes to replace the fence and discovers that their property line is really two feet into Frank’s garden.
Although both couples try to be rational, irrationality soon takes over with shouting, threats of lawsuits and more. Each couple feels they are right and that the other is taking advantage of them.
Karen Zacarias’ play is well structured though at times I wondered if two well-educated Washingtonians would really make as many insensitive comments as Frank and Virginia do. And would Pablo really invite his entire firm (he is a recent hire) to his home for a BBQ days after moving in and with his wife within weeks of giving birth? Would he and Tania try to replace the fence in just 5 days? But these are minor complaints. Let’s assume they are plot devices to set up the urgency of the situation.
Director Brian J. Feeham keeps the play moving though one can question if some of the altercations would get that close to being physical.
Joseph Deliger and Stacia Fernandez play Frank and Virginia; the added bonus is that they are husband and wife in real life. Frank is the more volatile one, while Fernandez shows us Virginia’s deep-seated anger at how she has been disrespected on her job. Most of the time, the two show us the slow build-up of anger and resentment that then explodes. They turn this dispute into an older generation vs. younger generation battle.
Jose-Maria Aguila as Pablo seems more uncertain of himself than I would expect. Afterall, we are told he comes from a wealthy family and grew up with luxury and servants. Here, he seems to lack self-assurance. Blanca Grande is fine as Tania, trying to be the peace-keeper/mediator but slowly reacting to the comments of Frank and Virginia.
Native Gardens points out how as we become both a more diverse country and one with more commitment to our environment, conflicts are bound to arise.
For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org.
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