REVIEW: NATIVE GARDENS at the Denver Center

by Taylor Jo Oxley

The Denver Center presents the world premiere of NATIVE GARDENS playing now through May 6th. Dealing with neighbors can be thorny, especially for Pablo and Tania, a young Latino couple who have just moved into a well-established DC neighborhood. Though Frank and Virginia have the best intentions for making the new couple feel welcome next door, their newly budding friendship is tested when they realize their shared property line isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Frank is afraid of losing his prized garden, Pablo wants what is legally his, Tania has a pregnancy and a thesis she’d rather be worrying about, and Virginia just wants some peace. But until they address the real roots of their problems, it’s all-out war in this hilarious and heartfelt play about the lines that divide us and those that connect us.

Friends or Neighbors. Organic planting over Vanity Gardens. Millennials versus The Greatest Generation. Natives and Newcomers. Rightful Landowners against Squatters. All of this and more is covered during the short hour and one half of Native Gardens. Though it may seem that the show is a politically charged piece that is heavy with conflict, it is actually quite the opposite. Playwright Karen Zacarías does a masterful job of mixing these topics into conversations about backyard gardens and property lines.

The Space Theater was magically transformed into two backyard gardens by the incredibly talented Lisa M. Orzolek. This beautiful, earthy space was complimented by Charles R. MacLeod’s lighting design. Clever touches such as “clap on” garden lights and falling acorns did not go unnoticed. These aspects of the show were executed flawlessly.

The beginning of the play felt a bit forced. The collective tone of the Del Valle couple (played by Mariana Fernandez and Ryan Garbayo) made it seem like they were announcers for a soccer game. While these inflections weren’t necessary at the start of the show, they were much appreciated towards the end when the script called for such. The Butley’s, played by John Ahlin and Jordan Baker, were very believable in their words and actions throughout the play.

Playing to and audience in the round is not an easy task. There were times throughout the show that I was distracted by the overactive movement of the actors. While I understand that it is necessary to keep the attention of the audience, while also making sure that reactions are seen by all, the overall hyperactivity throughout the play was exhausting. However, I do want to note that during the climax of the script, the excitable physical nature of the actors was welcomed.

The production of Native Gardens is something worth seeing. The set is visually stunning, and compliments the story well. The writing is hilariously smart, and although I was not a fan of the physicality produced by the actors, I was quite happy with the comedic delivery. They most definitely had me laughing throughout the show.

Watch the drama grow in NATIVE GARDENS, playing now through May 6th at the Space Theatre in the Denver Center Complex. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Box Office by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.

PHOTO CREDIT:  AdamsVisCom.

 

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