I’m interested in origins and when we claim them and when we stop, the power of language and place. (Tania; Native Gardens; Act 1 Scene 2)
It was the opening gala for Native Gardens presented by the Mendocino Theater Company; a great event for MTC family and friends who gathered to support the final production of the season. Anticipation was in the air. MTC theater lovers were engaged and ready for something to lift the spirits.
True comedy, Native Gardens is the real medicine.
Sitting down and waiting for the play to begin gives time to appreciate Diane Larsen’s amazing set design; and the hands-on work of Steve Greenwood, a team that has impressed in the past. They went one step further in creating this set.
The setting is a suburb on the outskirts of Washington, DC. From the viewer’s perspective, we see a back door and courtyards of two townhouses. An English ivy fence and a garden with flowering plants separate the two courtyards.
The house darkens; the stage lights up. Two couples, each in their own courtyard, address the audience, setting a different kind of backdrop, an emotional backdrop.
One couple is older and white. Virginia, played by Kaye Handley, and Frank, played by Steve Jordan, have lived in the house for decades. Your garden is clean and uncluttered except for the deckchairs and tables, some manicured bushes and the flower garden.
The other pair is young and brown. Tania, played by Maria Ramos, and Pablo del Valle, played by Alexsandro “Alex” Bravo. You just moved in. Her garden is a bit run down, with debris on the ground – leaves and acorns from an old oak tree.
The couples speak in turn – It’s a historic district, … Stately homes and gardens, .. Ours is a Fixer Upper, … A tree., … Old neighborhood, … New neighbors.
Vignettes used throughout the piece offer unspoken thoughts rather than words. Even in the middle of planning, pragmatic action comes first. Sometimes characters speak the same lines together. Despite differences and underlying concerns, diversity has more sides of an issue in common than one would expect. More subtle commentary, so deftly delivered by the actors using comedic pauses and tones, informs us that things may not be going well in the garden for everyone.
Native Gardens is a true comedy. And more.
Karen Zacarias, award-winning Latina playwright, has submitted a well-written screenplay, funny yet full of what’s needed in today’s overly judgmental society. It is a play that informs, teaches and entertains at the same time.
Lynn Sotos, Director, explains in her notes that on one side of the fence is a new young couple of LatinX ethnicity and on the other side is an older established WASP couple. The play addresses… the melting pot, ethnic roots, racism, ageism, the border wall, the American dream and entitlement…
The conflict that arises carries all the ins and outs and ups and downs of what is being played out in everyday realities, politically and socially; However, as the plot progresses, the dividing line is not easily drawn. Privileges and permissions are noted on both sides of the fence. Racism and ageism are noted on both sides of the fence. The border is constantly being pushed back, with skilful humor in dealing with it.
On the other hand, I had long wondered what the X means in Latin. The term LatinX came from the Spanish-speaking queer community to challenge the gender dichotomy.
In terms of binary genders, let’s talk about the women in Native Gardens.
Tania is a smart and strong woman who is defending her PhD in anthropology and is about to give birth to her first child. She is a doer who believes that nature is the way to solve climate change. Tania wants her backyard to be a mini demonstration garden that shows nature is a game changer.
Virginia is a hardworking businesswoman who became an engineer in the days when women couldn’t get their way; and now in her senior years, she has a privileged position at Lockheed Martin. She has one adult son, not married. She hopes that one day he will get married in her backyard. Despite her WASP-like nature, she is proud of her Polish ancestry.
Although gender issues are not the main theme of the play, the women face up to the situation and try to resolve conflicts. Virginia and Tania become friends over women’s issues. The women overcome.
The men have a more physical stake in the game –
Frank works from home. His great love is his garden, which regularly uses pesticides to keep it thriving; I hope to win the Potomic Horticultural Society gardening competition every year. Gentle and flexible, he effortlessly indulges in rebuilding the fence and removing the English ivy; at least until the flower garden is in danger. He acknowledges that his son may not be straight.
Alex is the son of a senior Chllean who was disowned for marrying Tania, a peasant woman. He is a lawyer in a well-known law firm and hopes to become a partner. His flexibility is challenged when it comes to legal issues, but he is more flexible when it comes to gardening matters. He likes Frank’s flowers.
At the beginning of the piece we find out that Alex spontaneously invited his boss to his home. The boss has invited the office colleagues to do so. First, the logic is disputed by Tania; but in the end they decide to offer a BBQ that draws their attention to their beloved backyard.
is everyone happy Maybe for a minute. Until, looking at the plans, Tania discovers that the property line differs by a few meters, which explains why the neighbors’ garden is larger than her own. And so the game jerks forward, leading to rapid escalation, positions and sides changing and shifting, often in the course of a well-intentioned conversation.
The backyard – an idiomatic term for what is mine and not yours. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. The phrase “Not In My Back Yard” forms an unyielding acronym.
Native Gardens is a wonderful, no-nonsense screenplay. The complexity of the issues is as embedded in the characters as Americans as it is in us. Most important are the questions of greed versus kindness. These characters, like most of us, tend to resist greed and crave kindness. Everyone involved – the director, the cast, the staff, the volunteers – all emerge sweetly smelling of roses.
What would you like to grow in your garden? It’s not just about flowers, trees and bees. It’s about sharing ideas, resolving conflicts and valuing the contributions of others while always looking to the future. And in practice.