BWW Review: NATIVE GARDENS: Fencing With the Neighbors at Omaha Community Playhouse
Karen Zacarias is a phenomenon. This award-winning Latina playwright's work, NATIVE GARDENS, is currently on stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. It is witty, introspective, and highly entertaining.
You might say this play is a political allegory. It presents two couples: Frank and Virginia Butley and Pablo and Tania Del Valle. The Butleys are white, old school conservatives who have retired from stable government and engineering jobs. Virginia prides herself on her Polish roots, but they both bleed red, white and blue. The Del Valles are Latino progressives. A 30-something Chilean, Pablo works for a law firm and Tania, born and raised in NEW Mexico, is working on her PhD dissertation while awaiting their first baby.
Del Valles have recently moved into a fixer upper next door to the Butleys' stately home in an affluent Washington, DC neighborhood. Dividing their yards is an unsightly chain link fence. Everything in the Butleys' yard is planned, meticulously tended, and treated with pesticides. On the Del Valle side the yard is random, untended, and cast in the shade of a longstanding oak.
The hospitable Frank and Viriginia welcome their new neighbors with fine wine and chocolate. They all like the idea of replacing the chainlink with a more aesthetic wood fence, but things soon slide downhill when Pablo tells them that they need to do it within six days. Pablo has his entire law firm coming for a BBQ and Frank is expecting judges to adjudicate his flowers for a horticultural competition.
When the Del Valles have a survey of their yard done, they discover that their property extends two feet into the Butleys' yard. The problem of property lines becomes a fencing match of epic proportions. Who has more right? The couple who has cared for the property over the years or the transplanted couple who has just moved in with a blueprint?
A highly respected director, Ablan Roblin pulls the best from an already stellar cast. Dennis Collins (Frank) is comical just standing there in his garish mid calf socks (kudos to Jenn Sheshko for finding these atrocities and including them with a wardrobe that clearly defines the differences between the couples.) Collins' facials, his growling voice, his mannerisms are wildly funny. His comedic match, Mary Kelly (Virginia), is a stitch with a chair, a chainsaw, or a slap to a cheek. I want these two to live next door to me. Giovanni Quezada (Pablo) captured my attention in the Florence Community Theater's 2019 production of LEADING LADIES. He continues his rise to the top of Omaha's comedic actors. Alyssa Isabel Gonzalez (Tania), a new face on OCP's stage, is refreshing with an intelligent approach to humor.
I love this play for many reasons. One is its overtones of social issues.
Boundaries. Butleys want to preserve the current property line, arguing squatters' rights while declaring there is "not an uglier word." Virginia also doesn't recognize Tania's personal boundaries as she pats her pregnant belly.
Racism. Butleys view the Del Valles as Mexican even though neither is from Mexico. Virginia wonders if Pablo is the law firm's "token" just as she was the "token female" in her engineering company.
Immigration. Butleys tend their imported English ivy and flowers with pesticides while Del Valles want to grow organic plants native to the area and good for the ecosystem. Frank calls these native plants "weeds," and the young couple accuses him of "botanical xenophobia."
There is much more. More "isms" such as classism, sexism, ageism and even narcissism. Every "ism" there is. But the best part of this particular play is the humor. Zacarias uses humor in her writing to get her points across without beating us over the head with the issues. These four actors are just the ones to carry this out with puns, wisecracks, slapstick, and hijinks perfectly timed and executed. It is guaranteed hilarity.
In addition to the four leads, three stage hands double as surveyor or landscapers-- a really clever way to do scene changes while incorporating the crew into the cast.
Tim Vallier has composed a peppy musical score to add to John Gibilisco's sounds of geese and Daisy Edith Gibilisco's voiceover barks (I love the dog's bio being included in the playbill.)
Jim Othuse, always the consummate scenic designer, has built a no-expenses-spared pair of facades with a mock oak tree and yards landscaped by Heather Tomasek. The set is beautifully lighted by Aja Jackson.
So. Bottom line. This show can't miss. It has a message. It is beautifully presented. It is superbly acted. And it's gut-shaking funny.
Performances: FEB 14-MAR 15, 2020.
Photo Credit: Colin Conces