BWW Review: Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors in Intiman's NATIVE GARDENS
For as long as there have been living spaces people have had points of contention with their neighbors, whether it's the people upstairs, next door, or on the other side of the fence. Maybe they're too noisy, or they shoot off fireworks right outside your bedroom window on the fourth of July, or they like to stack up their garbage by their front door rather than taking it to the dumpster (you guessed it, I once had the neighbors from hell). But no matter the differences the hope is that people can work them out (or just let them seethe inside for years) without resorting to pesticides and chainsaws as the folks in Karen Zacarías' play "Native Gardens" did, currently being offered from Intiman Theatre.
You see, in Zacarías' play we meet Virginia and Frank (Julie Briskman and Jim Gall), and older couple living in an upper-class neighborhood where Frank tends his opulent prize hopeful English Garden. Enter Pablo (Phillip Ray Guevara), an up and coming lawyer and his pregnant wife Tania (Sophie Franco) who's working on her PhD who move into the run-down house next door with a back yard that hasn't been tended to in ages. At first the two couples get along famously, and Frank especially is thrilled that Tania wants to fix up the garden and remove the ugly chain link fence the previous owners put in and install a nice wood fence. But those feelings quickly sour when their aesthetics towards the types of plants they should have clash plus there's the small problem that Frank's Garden is actually two feet on the young couple's property. Enter the chainsaws.
On the surface this may sound like a raucous comedy and in some sense, it is but Zacarías has also imbued it with an interesting look at the juxtapositions of history where now the young idealistic Latinx Americans are put in the role of "The Man" using the law, claiming rights to land that the older white couple has lovingly tended for years. So, who's right? And that's where the play goes beyond just a knee slapper and into a knee slapper with a brain. It does get a little predictable and cliché at times, but I still found the basic premise to be a fresh look at an old trope.
Arlene Martínez-Vázquez has assembled a top notch cast and crew here. Briskman and Gall beautifully walk the line of out of touch but trying so as to never become the villains as the play should have no villains. And Franco and Guevara make for a wonderful pair of young earnest idealists with tons of bravado and passion. And both couples are presented with such fantastic layers never making them stereotypes but real people caught up in a ridiculous situation. And I must also mention the gorgeous set from Lex Marcos that set the tone perfectly the instant you walk in and handled the scene changes quite well.
But great sets and fantastic performances aside I can't say the show wowed me. It didn't annoy me and was a fun little diversion and it got across its message quite well but is it one that's going to stick with me for years or even days to come? I'm sorry, what were we talking about? And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Intiman Theatre's "Native Gardens" a satisfied MEH+. I can't fault the show on much, but I can't say you need to rush right out and see it either ... unless you're really into gardens ... or neighbor disputes.
"Native Gardens" from Intiman Theatre performs at the Jones Playhouse through September 30th. For tickets or information contact the Intiman Theatre box office at 206-315-5838 or visit them online at www.intiman.org.