Tania Del Valle (played by Briana Resa) and Frank Butley (Jim Salners) in Native Gardens.
Tania Del Valle (played by Briana Resa) and Frank Butley (Jim Salners) in Native Gardens.
Photo by RicOrnelProductions

Native Gardens: When Taking to the Barricades Involves Fences and Flowers

Playwright Karen Zacarias says she's never had a really bad neighbor story to tell. But that doesn't mean she hasn't heard them.

"It happened to people I know. Once I started talking to people about neighbor stories, everybody had a neighbor story. My parents have a neighbor story. My in-laws have a neighbor story. Everybody I know has a neighbor story."

She decided this could be good material for a play. "It was kind of an interesting jumping-off point to examine how fights happen and how almost all fights are about land and culture in some way and to look at it in a way to see how this could be solved," she says. "So I thought looking at it, I thought comedy was the best way to show both the humanity and absurdity of some of these fights."

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The result was Native Gardens, on its way to Main Street Theater. The comedy takes on race, immigration and stereotyping in a way that shows rather than sermonizes about how ridiculous most of us can be at times.

Tania and Pablo, married up-and-comers in their thirties, have moved into a mostly white neighborhood. Tania, a Ph.D. student, is from New Mexico while Pablo, an attorney in a big law firm, is from Chile. Next door are Frank and Virgina; she’s an engineer, he a consultant for “the agency” who sees his new neighbors as “Mexican.” His obsession with his garden and landscaping puts him at direct odds with Tania, who finds it absurd and ecologically unsound that he’s cultivating an English garden in mid-Atlantic America. And tells him so.

Zacarias, who made American Theatre's Top 20 list of most produced playwrights in America in the 2016-17 season, says the 90-minute, one-act is a rollicking ride. “It’s like a rolling train. You won’t know what hit you.”

She says the ending is hopeful and surprising. “This is not about people you dislike doing horrible things. You go back and forth about who’s right, but the person you’re really judging is yourself."

Performances are scheduled for May 20 through June 11 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater – Rice Village, 2540 Times. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $36-$45.

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