by Jody Key – Managing Editor — May 11, 2019
The old saying good fences make good neighbors undergoes a match of cultural wits at Aurora Theater from now until June 2 as they offer up NATIVE GARDENS, a performance that will spark cultural debate, yet in the end, will leave us remembering our humanity is more important than our differences.
Playwright Karen Zacarias explores the themes of natural landscape vs horticultural dream garden, Latinx vs WASP, and Millennial vs Baby Boomer using perfectly timed humor to lighten the mood as new neighbors Pablo and Tania work toward their slice of the American dream next door to their older and more established adjacent neighbors, Frank and Virginia. There are comparisons and contrasts between the neighbors. Pablo, from Chile is working to impress his law firm and become their first Hispanic partner. Virginia works for Lockheed Martin and has for decades, having been the first female engineer when she began her career. Frank and Tania both enjoy gardening; however Frank is obsessed with winning the neighborhood horticulture award for his beautiful flower beds, whereas Tania would like to produce a native garden of indigenous plants in an effort to be a steward of nature. The couples do their best to get along despite their differences, but when Pablo and Tania offer to take out the unsightly chain link fence in favor of a wooden one, they discover the property line has been drawn incorrectly and encroaches on Frank and Virginia’s property by two feet. Upon making this discovery, mayhem ensues as each couple vies for the coveted strip of land.
Director Daniel Jaquez does a beautiful job making this story come to life. The set designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay depicts the two houses and their yards in meticulous fashion. the Curley-Clay twins’ attention to detail is what sets them apart as scenic designers in the ATL. The audience actually feels like they’re in the backyards of these two old historic houses. Ben Rawson’s lighting design highlights the set and captures the subtle tones of dawn to dusk from one scene to the next. Kevin Frazier’s sound design provides fun continuity and gives the Garcia Landscapers opportunity to break into dance as they maintain the yards of both neighbors.
Not only did Jaquez assemble a stellar team, he also cast the show well. Each performer sowed their performance seeds with full conviction, authenticity, and and perfect comedic timing.
Carolyn Cook’s portrayal of Virginia offers a look at a woman who broke glass ceilings long before most women entered the working world. She’s an accomplished engineer at Lockheed Martin and the voice of reason for her more emotional husband. She’s feisty yet compassionate.
Bart Hansard plays Virginia’s husband, Frank. He’s got a green thumb and dreams of winning the neighborhood’s horticulture prize for most beautiful yard. He takes pride in his backyard oasis, and is passionate about defending what he’s worked hard to produce.
Fedra Ramirez-Olivares as Tania depicts a vivacious young mother-to-be who is supportive of her husband and passionate about turning her home into a native ecological oasis for local wildlife. She’s a woman who knows what she wants, yet wishes to be neighborly as well.
Cristian Gonzales is Pablo, a Chilean by birth who spent his life in American boarding schools. He’s working toward a slice of the American dream for his pending family, and sees reclaiming the strip of yard that is rightfully theirs in no-nonsense, buisness-like fashion.
Finally, there’s the Garcia Landscapers, Sharon Estella and Joey Florez Jr. These two expertly add continuity to the production as they dance their way through their duties and cleverly move the plot along. They play the role of hosts and expertly invite the audience in as flies on the fence to laugh at these ridiculous couples and ourselves as we can relate to either couple and also see the viewpoint of the other.
NATIVE GARDENS is definately Key-noteworthy, and one of the most captivatingly entertaining plays I’ve seen recently. Bravo, Aurora on your Signature Series closing play of the season. It is a topical choice that helps us remember our similarities are more important that our differences.
NATIVE GARDENS plays until June 2nd at Aurora Theater. For tickets, visit https://www.auroratheatre.com/productions-and-programs/view/native-gardens