Thursday October 19th 2017

“Native Gardens”

Highly Recommended **** This is one that will be all over the board when it comes to reviewers and their feelings. The play is called “Native Gardens” and was written by Karen Zacarias (a playwright who has been known to be somewhat controversial in her works).Fact is, it is having premieres all over the country, with Chicago, and Victory Gardens as the spot, being one of them. The title of the play is only a small part of what it is about. The “rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey always said, is about the world we live in and the stereo-types that have become somewhat the “norm” in our society.

In this 90 minutes of hilarity (yes, it is very funny) we get to meet two couples, an older couple, the Butleys-the adorable Janet Ulrich Brooks as Virgina, and the comical Patrick Clear as Frank.  They are upscale Washington, D.C. residents with a lovely home, in an upscale neighborhood.The house next door, one that has been grossly untended to, has been purchased by the Del Valle family- Pablo (deftly handled by Gabriel Ruiz) and his pregnant wife, Tania ( an incredible performance by Paloma Nozicka). He is an attorney trying to become a partner and she is working on her thesis for her PhD. They have purchased this “fixer-upper” to begin their new life and their new family in the world they have opted to raise their family in- what might be called “upscale America”. Not as Latinos working their way into this society, but as husband and wife making their own way.

It turns out that there are differences between the two couples, but not just the age and the nationality. One of them is the garden. Frank has had a beautiful, almost award-winning garden for many years. Here, I must say that the set designed by William Boles is indeed a masterpiece. One might swear they have been in either of these back yards ( or both). Tania, born and raised in New Mexico, is into natural gardens in order to make the environment a better place to live and to add years to our world, Of course, in Frank’s view, the “Native Garden” is an eyesore and might as well be considered “junk”.

Pablo has invited his entire law firm to his new home for a bar-b-que and tells Frank and Virgina they are going to take down the link fence that is between their yards. The Butleys have no problem with that , as it was not their fence to begin with. As Pablo and Tania begin to prepare for their reshaping and decorating of their yard, they find that there is something wrong with the “plat-of-survey” and that the beautiful flower beds in Frank and Virginia’s yard, is in fact, in their yard! Someone goofed!

What takes place from this point forward is close to what we felt back in the days of “The War Between The Roses” as these couples, who were close to liking each other, go out of their way to express their disgust with the way “these people” treat “these people”. Here is where Zacarias goes off on the way of our world; young versus old, White versus Latino, an in fact all the prejudices that have been around for generations. Director Marti Lyons shows her understanding of how many people opt to see people for what they “think they are” rather than what they really are. Just because someone is a Latina, is she Mexican? Isn’t it true that many Americans as well as Europeans judge people based on their race or religion instead of the people they are. Of late, we see a great deal of this with the “black lives matter”- the truth is ALL LIVES MATTER! That is what America was built on. People who were oppressed left their lives and often their families to come here for the freedom to be who and what they are- this play, in a small way, does get into that, and yet, does so in a comedic manner allowing us to be entertained while we are being educated. The dialogue about “squatter’s rights” is hysterical and Brooks and Clear handle it to perfection.

There will be audience members who will think that Zacarias is prejudiced to a fault. I say, she hit the nail on the head! I have lived in a home where the property lines were missed “slightly” and understand the fight that can stem from this. My neighbor called me many things including a “bully” and told me that my type is always taking things from “his type”. Need I say more? Archie Bunker, where are you now?.

The play is 90 minutes and there is a point where you think it is over, but it is not. In fact, opening night, audience members were on their feet showing their gratitude for a wonderful experience, only to find that there was indeed an epilogue- one where all the pieces of the story are completed. Bravo! The tech aspects of the production were all top-notch. Samantha C. Jones (costumes), Keith Parham (lighting), Mikhail Fiskel (sound), Jaq Seifert (fight choreography) and Alec Long & Mealah Heidereich (props/wow, there were lots of great props). Speaking of props, there was a mishap involving a folding garden chair that they should try to keep in the play; the two men,Ruiz (who it happened to) and Clear (who observed it taking place) handled it like the pros they are, and the audience loved every second of it.

While this is a four person play, there is an ensemble: Debbie Banos, Ernesto Martinez and Daniel Mendoza (notice anything special about them?) who handle the small, but important roles of the contractors, landscapers etc. Nice job!

“Native Gardens” will continue at Victory Gardens Theater(main stage) located at  2433N. Lincoln Avenue thru July 2nd with performances as follows:

Tuesdays  7:30 p.m.

Wednesdays  7:30 p.m.

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets range from $15-$60 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-871-300 or online at www.victorygardens.org

Valet parking is available as well as street (metered for the most part) and some spaces in the old Children’s Hospital Garage , a block south of the theater on Lincoln Avenue

Accessible performances: word for word (open captioning)  June 16th, 17th (3 p.m.) and June 21st

ASL  June 16th  7:30 p.m./

Audio Description/touch tour  June 16th (touch tour at 6 )

June 25th  3 p.m. (touch-tour 1:30 p.m.)

additional public programs can be found on the website  www.victorygardens.org

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Native Gardens”

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