Monday, September 25, 2017

"Native Gardens" at Arena Stage

I went to see "Native Gardens" at Arena Stage and it was, as hinted at in the program, both a welcome respite and a funny way to examine some current issues.  The playwright Karen Zacarias also wrote "Destiny of Desire" and while this show was, shall we say, a little more traditionally structured, there were some similar themes and basically, I am in for Zacarias's stuff.  The play was a co-production with the Cincinnati Playhouse and so debuted there last year, where I suspect some of the incredibly specific DC lines needed a little more context, there was nothing so DC, that you would lose the plot but subtleties that were richer if you had the DC knowledge to get them. 
There are four named characters in the play, an older white couple who have lived in this historic neighborhood for years and Frank is very proud of his garden.  The younger, newer, Latinx couple next door (I'm shorthanding here, there's a very robust discussion of the changing terminology appropriate for both Tania and Pablo, especially as Pablo is a Chilean immigrant and Tania is from New Mexico) moves into a house that had been rental property for years and is a bit of a fixer upper.  Pablo, trying to impress his new law firm co-workers invites them all over for a party.  Tania, who is a doctoral student and is also pregnant has not been planning to get the house or the yard visitor ready so quickly, but they decide the yard is possible, and a new fence is an important piece of this, and well, this leads to discussions of class, generational differences, cultural differences, political differences, and also the differences in types of gardening, the more natural indigenous plant approach, or the pesticide laden regimented flowers approach.  
There were many moments of laughter, of sucked in breaths or ooohs as a line dug a character deeper into trouble or seemed incredibly on point.  There are no act breaks, which meant the epilogue provided with the cast speaking directly to the audience after the final emotional moment, wrapped up some loose ends nicely.  
So, now let's get to the DC stuff.  I don't believe the specific neighborhood they are in is referenced directly, only that it's an old historic neighborhood, and that at one point there is mentioned that woo-woo organic gardening would be more appropriate in Navy Yard, or Petworth, that they could have a chicken coop in Takoma Park if they wanted. Frank at one point mentions working for the Agency, in an ominous way that leads, in my opinion to one of the best laughs of the evening, so I won't explain further.  There was one point where there is discussion of DC fence laws, and one of my fellow audience members recited the regulation along with the characters, so I'm guessing that that part was very familiar to those who have had to get fence permits. They all have what transplants (which all four characters are) would consider very DC jobs - PhD student, lawyer, defense contractor, and well, retired agency employee.  At one point Tania comes out into the backyard with an Ice Cream Jubilee pint, which was a delightfully specific prop.  
The cast was almost all new to Arena Stage, and it seems DC theater, but they were wonderful and had a great time.