“Good fences make good neighbors” is an aphorism whose origins are debated but whose truth is generally accepted. Where the fence actually runs, though, can be a test of neighborly relations as it is in the Left Edge Theatre production of Karen Zacarias’ Native Gardens. The Jenny Hollingworth-directed comedy runs in Santa Rosa through April 17.
The adjoining backyards of two suburban Washington, DC homes is the setting (by Michael Mingioa) for a sort of War of the Roses as new residents Pablo (Justin P. Lopez) and Tania (Livia Gomes Demarchi) introduce themselves to their new neighbors Frank (Mike Pavone) and Virginia (Priscilla Locke). The subject of gardening comes up as Frank shares the pride and joy that is his backyard flower garden. A beautiful mixture of flowers and plants from around the world, Frank tends to it assiduously in the hopes of finally being recognized by the local horticultural society. Tania plans to re-do the backyard of their fixer-upper with an organic garden utilizing only native species.
Their yards are separated by a rickety old chain link fence that Frank has covered with English Ivy as to not spoil the view of his surrounding flowers. Pablo and Tania offer to replace it, and after a survey is done in preparation of the work, discover that their property actually extends two feet into Frank’s flower bed.
Pablo and Tania want the work done immediately as they’re hosting an important party for Pablo’s new law firm partners. Frank can’t believe they want to tear up his flowers on the weekend of a local garden competition. The lines are drawn.
The fray soon takes on racial, political, and generational components often couched in botanical terms as in a debate between the men about whether Frank’s non-native plants are “immigrants” or “colonists”. A cartoonish battle ensues with peace only brokered by an early, unexpected arrival.
Zacarias has taken a well-worn bit of situation comedy material and expanded it into 90 minutes of clever, amusing theatre.
Hollingworth’s cast has fun as Pavone and Locke go enjoyably over-the-top. Gomes Demarchi does a great slow boil as Tania, but Lopez’s Pablo is a bit tepid and there’s some curious blocking that made his performance a bit too presentational and out of sorts with the others.
Native Gardens doesn’t beat you over the head with its message(s). Exceedingly even-keeled with its targets, its laughs are genuinely non-partisan.
‘Native Gardens’ runs through Apr. 17 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Thu – Sat, 7pm; Sun., 2pm. $22–$44. Proof of vaccination required to attend. Masking is optional. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com.
Photos by Eric Chazankin
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.