Theater Review: “Native Gardens” at Silver Spring Stage

Left to right: Chris Galindo (Pablo Del Valle), Alexandra Bailey (Tania Del Valle), Sarah Holt (Virginia Butley) and Scott Holden (Frank Butley) in ‘Native Gardens’ at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Ira Levine.

Sometimes less is more. “Native Gardens”, a comedy by Karen Zacarías is a perfect example. Currently playing Silver Spring Stage, it has a small cast (only four members have dialogue), a set, and takes place over a few days. It makes some very strong points about conflict and conflict resolution.

…humorous and upbeat… a ‘flourishing’ success.

Virginia and Frank Butley (Sarah Holt and Scott Holden) are an older, financially stable, white couple nearing retirement. They’ve lived in a well-established, upper-class neighborhood for years (which appears to be Washington, DC, but it could be anywhere). Frank loves working in his small yard and is trying to win the local award for best garden. Ginny, as she likes to be called, has risen quite high as a government contractor, sometimes struggling because she is a woman. They have an unmarried son who lives alone.

Pablo and Tania Del Valle (Chris Galindo and Alexandra Bailey) have just moved into the house next door. Pablo is a Chilean immigrant starting out in a prestigious law firm. Tania is originally from New Mexico, of Hispanic descent. She is working on her thesis and is quite pregnant.

Frank and Tania have very contrasting ideas about gardening, but they all agree that the ugly old steel wire fence separating the two courtyards needs to be replaced with a more attractive wooden fence. When Pablo and Tania discover that the property lines of their yard actually extend all the way to the Butleys, including Frank’s beloved garden, tempers rise and the differences between the two couples are amplified. The plot centers on how couples deal with their conflicts, whether they can compromise and ultimately live in harmony.

Galinda gives an impressive performance as Pablo. He can go from a gentle husband and employee to a demanding neighbor and, sometimes, a spouse. Bailey’s Tania is a very strong person, but her performance adds a sweetness that an expectant mother might have, wanting to create a good environment for her child. It’s Tania, not Pablo, who’s trying to fix the fences.

Holt captures the powerful Ginny who may have been the one at work who had to compromise and get along with her male counterparts. At home, she is on her own turf and does not hesitate to defend her husband and their property. As Frank, Holden also allows us to empathize with this aging government employee who has become almost compulsive about his garden.

Matt Ripa’s directing is lively, but he lets his actors evolve. The blocking is perfect for this unusual stage and I could see and hear everything. All the actors have great chemistry. We never doubt that these are two married couples who, in their own way, are still in love with each other.

Leigh K. Rawl’s set is perhaps the real star here and one of the best I’ve seen. He created two separate backyards. There are facades of both houses, each distinct in a particular way. One looks well maintained and the other seems to need attention. It’s really the wonderful gardens that Rawls created, painted and decorated that are so eye-catching. You know before the play begins that someone is a master gardener. It’s an ingenious touch that when the flowers are plucked during the play, even the earth goes with them. When they are replanted, they return quickly and are beautiful.

Stephanie Yee’s costumes match the characters, including a pregnancy bump for Tania. Don Slater’s lighting helps set the mood and night scenes are always well lit. Matthew Datcher’s sound design also helps convey moods and transition scenes.

If the piece has a flaw, it’s the end that’s a little too neat. If you’ve ever had neighborhood issues, you might know that it rarely ends this way, but it’s nice to see a humorous and upbeat piece at a time when the world seems so bleak. “Native Gardens” is a “flourishing” success.

Duration: 1h30 without intermission.

“Native Gardens” runs through July 16, 2022 at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Maryland 20901 (Woodmoor Shopping Center). For tickets, go to this link. Note: Vaccination cards are required and masks must be worn in theatre.

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