Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Native Gardens
Old Globe Theatre
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Avenue Q

Eddie Martinez, Kimberli Flores, Peri Gilpin,
and Mark Pinter

Photo by Jim Cox
Karen Zacarías' play Native Gardens, now receiving its West Coast premiere production at The Old Globe, attempts to bring the comedy of manners genre up to date by examining tensions between new neighbors in a well-to-do neighborhood of Washington, D. C. While Ms. Zacarias succeeds in portraying how people from different cultural backgrounds feel when attempting to get along, her play falters at its climax.

Frank and Virginia Butley (Mark Pinter and Peri Gilpin) are long-time residents of the neighborhood. Frank, in particular, enjoys gardening and has structured his backyard as a formal garden, with careful selection of plants and precise arrangement of those plants. Frank hopes to win the annual garden competition, and he's been frustrated that his design skills and hard labor have not yet been rewarded.

Pablo and Tania Del Valle (Eddie Martinez and Kimberli Flores) are the Butleys' new neighbors. Pablo is an associate at a Washington law firm, and Tania is a doctoral student and pregnant with the couple's first child. Tania also loves gardening, but her philosophy of this hobby is far different from Frank's: she loves native plants and hates the pesticides that Frank relies on to keep his garden looking perfect.

Things are cordial enough at the beginning, until the Del Valles, reacting to Pablo's spur-of-the-moment invitation to his legal colleagues for a barbeque at their new home, decide to take down a fence that divides their property from the Butleys. It's a move that Frank and Virginia support wholeheartedly. However, the construction crew, in surveying the property line, finds that Frank and Virginia have cultivated about two feet of property that actually belongs to the Del Valles.

"Good fences make good neighbors," Frank recites. But, the fence was neither "good" nor in the right place.

Both sides realize that the impending negotiations will be delicate, and both end up inserting foot into mouth along the way. But both also try to find some way of resolving the conflict. In the process, information about their differences, both in terms of background and attitudes, emerge, and these differences make resolution harder.

Eventually, tensions rise to the point where fighting breaks out. And that's where Ms. Zacarias' comedy goes astray. The commentary on "manners" is set aside in favor of a pitched battle, sitcom style, followed by a denouement that is restorative but not easy to fathom, given what came before.

Director Edward Torres works nimbly with an expert cast (including José Balistrieri and Alexander Guzman as a mute but humorously choreographed pair of gardeners). His work is hindered to a degree by the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre's in-the-round configuration, which forces Collette Pollard's clever set design into too small a space. Amanda Zieve's lighting design helps to clarify how the space is being used, however, and that's a good thing.

Ms. Gilpin and Mr. Pinter nicely embody a dying breed: traditionalists with conservative values who nevertheless want to be welcoming to neighbors who aren't like them. Mr. Martinez and Ms. Flores' characters are not as accepting by type, but both have a sense of humor (and, Ms. Flores plays her pregnancy to the hilt).

While I was more dismayed than energized by the play's development, Native Gardens may well please audiences with less academic tastes than mine.

Native Gardens, through June 24, 2018, at The Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Performs Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or online at Performances run 90 minutes, with no intermission.