Moses, Linda Stephens, Andrew Joseph Perez and
Kelsey Elyse Rodriguez in a scene from the
Renaissance Theatreworks’ production of
by Ross E. Zentner
- A new young couple with a baby on the way just bought
a fixer-upper in an established older neighborhood in
Washington, D.C. He is an ambitious young lawyer of
Chilean descent who was hired by a prestigious law firm,
and she is from New Mexico and is presently finishing
her dissertation. The Butleys, an older couple who live
next door, greet them cordially but cautiously.
Will they fit in, will they measure up to the unwritten
standards set by the long-time residents?
Frank Butley is a meticulous gardener. His yard is
beautifully coifed, always ready for the next best
garden contest. His wife, Virginia, is a successful
engineer, who has fought her way to success in a
primarily male-dominated world. They are both
semi-retired and eager to see the property next door
occupied by respectable owners, not shoddy renters,
which has been the case for some time.
start to get a little dicey when Tania reveals that she
is a “natural” gardener, devoted to encouraging
native plants that nurture the environment. She also
notices that their yard is smaller than their
neighbors’, so Pablo decides to have a survey done.
In his research , he discovers that the cyclone
fence that presently separates their properties is not
built on the true lot line, and thus, the new fence,
which he wants to build, would invade Frank’s garden.
their true colors begin to emerge - their prejudices,
their values, their style of negotiation, their sense of
privilege and territorial instincts. It is not pretty,
but it gets quite funny, at least on the surface.
and why do we set boundaries? Or as Robert Frost stated
so memorably in his poem, “Fences Make Good
Neighbors,” do they or don’t they? Is there such a
thing as “adverse possession,” where a person can
cultivate some land that he thinks he owns and when
discovering that he doesn’t, he must vacate it? All
these ideas come into play.
four actors do this interesting script justice. Norman
Moses and Linda Stephens play the older couple with a
mix of culture (and savagery when pushed), and Kelsey
Elyse Rodriguez and Andrew Joseph Perez play the younger
couple as two young, hardworking, educated people who
have fought to get where they are and want all that they
think they deserve. Tania and Virginia seem a bit more
flexible than their husbands, but they all seem capable
of a degree of ruthlessness when required.
set design by Madelyn Yee nicely reflects the contrast
between the yards. The 80-minute play rushes by, keeping
us engaged, laughing and thinking all the way.
by Marti Gobel, “Native Gardens” has a ton of issues
tucked away in its nooks and crannies and gardens. The
ending seems a bit pat, the issues perhaps too easily
resolved by the birth of Tania and Pablo’s child, when
suddenly all is forgiven, set straight and peaceful. If
only all disputes were that quickly swept away, but
it’s a nice thought.
The comic-drama by Karen Zacharias runs at Renaissance
Theatreworks in the Studio Theatre in the Broadway
Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Call
414-291-7800 or visit www.r-t-w.com.