“Native Gardens” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – October 7, 2018


Arizona Theatre Company
Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“Native Gardens” opens the 52nd Arizona Theatre Company season in a raucous production of a new comedy that pokes fun at a feud between two Washington, D.C. families who live in a tony neighborhood.  The neighbors are unable to resolve a border dispute between their respective properties.  Playwright Karen Zacarias uses wry humor that generates wild laughter at the silly situation that the quartet of adults should be able to resolve amicably but can’t.  Both property owners have their own reasons but even the legal reality doesn’t solve the problem.

Set in the nation’s often contentious capital, Frank and Virginia Butley have lived a longtime in their house where Frank has developed a formal backyard garden. The rundown house next door has just been purchased by Tania and Pablo Del Valle, a young couple expecting their first child.  They hope to turn their new house into a showplace featuring naturalistic landscaping.  Initially pleasant, the couples turn on each other when Pablo discovers that their neighbors have overstepped their property boundary.

Zacarias finds much amusement in the situation that resolves itself in an interesting way that won’t be revealed for fear of ruining the play.  Be assured that the laughs come fast and furiously.  The playwright uses physical humor plus nimble satire.  The play is short so the simple situation never grows bland.

Director Jane Jones further enables the comedy’s humor with zippy pacing that is amplified by four brilliantly crafted comic performances by a flawless cast.  Arlene Chico-Lugo’s Tania is spirited with heavy moxie for what she feels is fair.  Robynn Rodriguez’s Virginia, an engineer, is the stalwart and vocal supporter of her gardening freak husband.  Keith Contreras’ Pablo is a cautious, rule playing attorney who hopes to make a name for himself as he starts his law career with a prestigious firm.  Bill Geisslinger’s loud-mouthed Frank is a fighter who isn’t willing to give up his labor intensive garden simply because of his inaccurate property definition.

Throughout the play, little details are dropped about the characters and situation that make the play constantly interesting as audience loyalties shift and move as facts are revealed.  It is fascinating to watch set designer Carey Wong’s two neighboring backyards evolve as the play progresses.

“Native Gardens” champions reasonableness even though everyone thinks they are entitled to what they believe.  It’s all presented in an amusing manner so that the message never gets preachy but always remains clear.  It reminds us that people should be able to resolve well defined problems without troubling confusion.  “Native Gardens” continues at the Herberger Theater Center through October 21.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A