BWW Review: NATIVE GARDENS at Geva Theatre
Nothing encapsulates Native Gardens like its standout line "Old neighbors, new neighbors." Anyone who's ever been a new neighbor, especially in suburbia, knows the feeling of the side-eying, judgey but well-meaning older couple living next door, down the street, etc. Playwright Karen Zacaria couples that unease with sociopolitical themes and sitcom intimacy in this fun new(ish) play about the colliding of two upper-middle class worlds.
Native Gardens tells the story of young couple Pablo and Tania de Valle (Erik Gonzalez and Monica Rae Summer Gonzalez, respectively) and their relationship with their new neighbors the Butleys (Paul DeBoy and Anne-Marie Cusson). After moving into the neighborhood Pablo, a high-powered lawyer, and doctoral candidate Tania, his very pregnant wife, meet their new neighbors and-at first bluff-all seems well. But a disagreement over a long-standing fence line soon spirals into an all-out war of taste, class, privilege, and entitlement.
The small cast of Native Gardens is great across the board, creating a perfect contrast of young vs. old, conservative vs. liberal, and-most affectingly-white vs. Hispanic. The standout is Monica Rae Summer Gonzalez, who is perky and adorable one moment and a firecracker the next, screaming a string of curse words across the yard in Spanish and bringing the audience to tears.
The cast is funny and refreshing, but the set and production design of Geva's Native Gardens will be what is seared in your brain for days afterward. While Geva's sets are always world-class, the set of this production is astoundingly good, featuring the backyards, trees and foliage of of the Butleys and de Valles, one house pristine and beautiful and the other faded and worn (another nod to the stark differences between these two couples). Kudos to scenic designer Shoko Kambara.
The richness of story comes not from the first layer of narrative, but the second. While on the surface Native Gardens might be seen as a simple suburban comedy about quarreling neighbors, it's really a not-so-subtle metaphor about borders, colonization, immigration, and acceptance. Even more intriguing is the class dichotomy between the Butleys and the de Valles, one a scrappy, hungry young couple and the other the paradigm of WASP-y old money. The Butleys and the de Valles also come from different ends of the political spectrum but carry themselves as open and accepting, while secretly harboring contempt for the other side, with frequent barbs like "they're Republicans, but they're people too!". Between Native Gardens and Hard Cell, their earlier season premiere, Geva demonstrates a real commitment to showcasing new works that address topical, relevant issues of the day.
Geva Theatre's production of Native Gardens is funny, intimate, and pointed. It's political without being elitist or evangelizing, a tough line to walk. It's running on the theatre's Wilson Mainstage until April 21st. For tickets and more information, click here.