Theater Review: Native Gardens

24 Apr 2018

By Beki Pineda

NATIVE GARDENS – Written by Karen Zacarias; Directed by Lisa Portes.  Produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company (Denver Center, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through May 6, 2018.  Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or

There are no bad guys in this play, although there could have been.  If playwright Zacarias had leaned one way or the other, instead of walking the fine line between comedy and drama, this would have turned out much differently.  As it is, both sides of the dispute sincerely try to make the other side understand their position.  The dispute is about a fence and where to put it.  Both parties in the dispute put their back against the fence and won’t budge.

Actually, the fence is not the problem.  Both the Butleys, long established Caucasian residents of Washington D.C., and the Del Valles, their new Latino neighbors next door, agree on the fence.  It is only when the legal papers are consulted to determine where the property line is that the disagreement arises.  Frank Butley is a retired consultant to “the agency” and a fierce gardener of the English variety.  Carefully cultivated (which means pesticides) flowers in carefully created beds adorn his pride-and-joy back yard.  He has high hopes of winning the local gardening award this year after years of bitter competition with another neighbor.  Now it is discovered that one of his best bed of flowers is actually in his new neighbor’s yard.  Shock and dismay abound.  The judging for the contest is to take place on Sunday but the fence is going up on Friday.

On the other hand, Pablo, who has newly accepted a position with a prestigious law firm, has gotten coerced into having an office barbecue in his scruffy back yard on Saturday night.  He is doing his best to get the back yard cleaned up and the fence installed before the party.  His pregnant wife is a conservationist and wants to create a ‘native garden’ full of plants indigenous to the East Coast rather than imported geraniums.  They just want the whole of their back yard – what they actually paid for.  Why this property line disparity was not discovered at the closing is undisclosed.  You’d think it would have been discovered by the real estate agents when it was put on the market.  Pablo is an attorney, for Pete’s sake.  How did he let this slip?

Both the Butleys and the Del Valles are innocent of wrong-doing in the initial setting of the line.  It probably goes back to the former owner of the Del Valle house, who was an absentee landlord.  But it is certainly stirring the pot now.  Every conversation starts out peaceful and determined to find a way to resolve the issue reasonably.  The Butleys keep saying “But we like them.”  Unfortunately, tempers fly, accusations abound, prejudices creep to the forefront, and more harm is done with each unresolved conversation.  There is finally a resolution . . . but getting there is half the fun.

John Ahlin and Jordan Baker are the Butleys.  They give their characters the inborn entitlement and oblivious suburban mindset needed to make them funny and real.  Mariana Fernandez and Ryan Garbayo, the Del Valles, are played with newlywed affection and an understanding born of experience from dealing with a Caucasian world.

Lisa Orzolek has created a lot of sets for the Denver Center, but she pulled out all the stops on this one.  Not only do we have two back yards side by side – one untamed and scruffy, the other polished and pretty – but we also have a life-sized tree growing out of the side of the stage which extends over both yards.  A model of engineering and realistic looking as well.

A slight but funny play that comes to a very satisfying conclusion and will make for a nice theatre evening.

A WOW factor of 8!

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