Neighbors Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez), Virginia (Amy Resnick), Tania (Marlene Martinez) and Frank (Jackson Davis) get testy with each other in 'Native Gardens' by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Courtesy of Kevin Berne
Neighbors Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez), Virginia (Amy Resnick), Tania (Marlene Martinez) and Frank (Jackson Davis) get testy with each other in 'Native Gardens' by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. (Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

'Native Gardens' Shows What 'Nice' People Look Like When They Dig in Their Heels

'Native Gardens' Shows What 'Nice' People Look Like When They Dig in Their Heels

1 min

Ever fight with your neighbors? Maybe she steals your paper. Or he parks that clunker in front of your house. Or maybe I’m describing you.

Playwright Karen Zacarías says she was inspired to write Native Gardens after a dinner party in which a number of her friends related problems with their neighbors. "We all talked about how terrible it is to be in a fight with your neighbor, because it’s where you live, you know. But also, I noticed what all the stories had in common: there was something primal and poetic and absurd."

That got Zacarías thinking, "What if every fight in the world can be narrowed down to four people in a backyard? And what can I learn about myself and my community by looking at it like that?"

Zacarías lives in Washington, D.C., but a story about neighbors new and old struggling to find common ground with each other resonates nationwide. In fact, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is one of six companies to perform it this year alone. Others include the Pasadena Playhouse, where Seinfeld star Jason Alexander is directing, the Old Globe in San Diego and Intiman Theatre in Seattle.

It's all smiles and laughter before two couples get to know each other, really, in “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
It's all smiles and laughter before two couples get to know each other, really, in “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. (Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

The plot (pun intended)

A young Latino couple, Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) and Tania (Marlene Martinez), moves into a nice suburb in Washington, D.C.. They form a fast friendship with the older white couple next door, Frank (Jackson Davis) and Virginia (Amy Resnick). Both couples listen to NPR. Both couples have strong, if conflicting, philosophies about gardening.

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But then it turns out the fence between them is located two feet onto the young couple’s property. What's going to happen to Frank's potentially prize-winning purple iris and hydrangea? 

Awkward.

Add a dash of racial tension — it is a border dispute after all — and you have instant comedy. Yes, says Zacarías, who adds she judges everyone in the play, including herself.  Thinking back to a small neighborly dispute she survived, she says "You know, I wanted it to be right more than I wanted it to be over."

A simple property line dispute becomes a proxy for issues neighbors find harder to talk about, like racism, sexism, ageism, culture, class, privilege and immigration in “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
A simple property line dispute becomes a proxy for issues neighbors find harder to talk about, like racism, sexism, ageism, culture, class, privilege and immigration in “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarías presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. (Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Berne)

She also wants the audience to change their alliances over the course of the play. Zacarías studied international relations at Stanford, which proved good preparation for this play. She says, "I think comedy is one of the best ways to talk about things that are thorny."

Everybody's earnest, self-pitying, self-righteous and patronizing. It's impossible to see the play without thinking of the national border dispute directed by the Trump Administration, but this story could take place in almost any town in Silicon Valley. We can all irritate each other very, very easily, even without the help of politics.

Native Gardens, put on by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, runs through September 16th at the Mountain View Center
for the Performing Arts. For more info, click here.

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