“First impressions are really good – great, actually.” But the first impression of new neighbors in an old neighborhood quickly shows us how the seeds of friendship are sometimes tricky to cultivate in Cleveland Play House’s NATIVE GARDENS. Written by Karen Zacarías and directed by Robert Barry Fleming, this tale of good soil and bad blood runs for only 2 more days at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square. Closing May 19, 2019, NATIVE GARDENS shows us how tricky a fence and a philosophy can be.
Straight from Cleveland Play House: “A hilarious hot-button comedy about thorny neighbors with good intentions. Pablo and Tania have just purchased a fixer-upper next to Frank and Virginia, a well-established couple with a prize-worthy English garden. A friendly disagreement over a little fence hilariously erupts into an all-out border war, exposing both couples’ notions of race, taste, class and privilege. The gloves are off in this colorful production that shines a light on what happens when cultures and gardens clash.”
The bickering begins shortly after Tania (played by Natalie Camunas) and lawyer Pablo Del Valle (played by Grayson DeJesus) move in to an old fixer-upper. Pablo is new to the area and to his law firm, so he’s got plenty to prove. He’s also foolishly made the decision to have a party for 60 of his new colleagues in just six days. They are barely unpacked and the backyard is a mess, but he’s roped Tania into making it happen!
In order to get ready for this party (which will be a backyard BBQ), Pablo and Tania convince neighbors Frank (played by Wynn Harmon) and Virginia Butley (played by Charlotte Maier) that the ugly metal fence between their properties must go and be replaced by a more aesthetically pleasing wooden one. That’s when the property line comes into question – it seems that the line (and Frank’s beautiful garden) is actually mis-represented. The Del Valle’s lot actually extends into the Butley yard, and is rightfully Pablo and Tania’s – putting up a new fence means tearing down some of Frank’s prized plants.
In this 90-minute, semi-predictable piece, the bickering ripens into a full out battle. Frank’s yard presentation is up for the neighborhood’s “Best Garden” award, but his garden is now under siege with the new property line and fence threatening to destroy his hard work. Tania wants to create her own garden with a more natural approach, but Frank sees her plans as nothing but weedy. On top of everything, it all goes down right before the big Garden Judgement day. The actors get their digs in on both sides, as they reap what they sow in the way of unkind words and un-neighborly deeds.
The landscape of the writing is a harvest of political and ideological nuggets. The words are delivered smartly and with earnest, while being fertilized by the gorgeous scenic elements surrounding the actors. The performances bring humor and wit to this bit of “botanical xenophobia.”
The design team has outdone themselves with this production. The amount of detail and richness in the set is the highlight of the experience. From the old brick of the house, to the towering tree, and texture of the gardens, this show is a feast for the eyes. The design team consists of Jason Ardizzone-West (Scenic Designer), Inda Blatch-Geib (Costume Designer), Michael Boll (Lighting Designer), Rodolfo Ortega (Sound Designer), Robert Ramirez (Dialect Coach), Rachel Lerner-Ley (Dramaturg). The Production Stage Manager for this production is Maryann Morris, with Tom Hues as Assistant Stage Manager.
The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission, and runs through Sunday, May 19, 2019. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.clevelandplayhouse.org, or by calling 216-241-6000.