Native Gardens a Funny and Thoughtful Excursion at DalekoArts in New Prague

I have made the trek 40 minutes south of my home to DalekoArts in New Prague four times now, I have yet to go home disappointed. Native Gardens, their new production is no exception. Like Playwright Karen Zacarias’ The Book Club Play, which is playing for one more week at Theater in the Round, this comedy draws it’s humor from the characters. Humor that comes from who the characters are, and what their needs and wants are, is almost always richer and deeper than a series of one liners and pratfalls. Though, those can be a lot of fun too. Native Gardens is about themes we can all relate to on some level, race, privilege, what it means to be a good neighbor, and gardening. Themes like that can be serious stuff, particularly the gardening, but the scripts magic trick is in how entertaining it makes exploring these themes. It’s a cast that really owns these characters and a set that once again uses the DalekoArts smallish stage wonderfully. This one led to some interesting discussions afterwards, not just about race and privilege but of theater and it’s changing landscape.

Pablo and his pregnant wife Tania have just moved into their new home. Their neighbors Frank and Virginia are an older couple nearing retirement. Things start off friendly enough between the two couples with the sharing of wine and talk about their yards. Frank is hoping his flower garden will finally take first prize when the annual neighborhood eventis judged this Sunday. Pablo, impulsively invited the entire law firm he just joined to a BBQ at his house on Saturday. To get their yard in shape they want to take down an ugly chain link fence and put up a new wood fence. Both couples are in favor of the fence and everything seem to be going great until the surveyor’s come out and discover that Pablo and Tania’s yard actually extends beyond the fence line, in fact it’s happens to be on the other side of Frank’s prized flower bed. That’s when things get tense, to begin with but they escalate from there. Populated with characters we can relate to and understand, Zacarias script refuses to allow us simply to choose a side and sit back and watch the fireworks. Yes, you will likely lean towards one or other of the couples, but it’s hard to ignore that each side does make some valid points. It’s not all black and white, and it illustrates how we can all escalate things when the arguments become emotional. Things we might have been willing to compromise on, come off the table when we feel taken advantage of or disrespected. Karen Zacarias is becoming a favorite playwright in the span of a few weeks.

The cast is very strong particularly Raul Arambula as Pablo and Julie Ann Nevill as his neighbor Virginia. Arambula, has a rich character to play and he’s able to bring out each aspect of the character fully. An intelligent lawyer but also at times an angry young man, who’s tired of being taken advantage of. He’s reasonable until he’s pushed too far, but when that happens we see the the patience wear thin. Nevill plays the established white career woman who’s winding down to retirement and has grown accustomed to her place in the world and home. This perhaps felt like one of the most realistic characters, maybe she reminds me of people I know a little order than I. She is intelligent with that knack for twisting things to turn herself into the victim. What Neville succeeds in is not easy, she plays her so that we see that her entitlement is completely unseen by her. She plays the various cards of her arguments without irony. It’s what an actor needs to do with a character like this, she has to see her character as correct and play it that way. In doing so, she makes what could easily be a straight forward “Karen”, into a person we actually can empathize with at times. Abigail Chagolla as Tania starts off a little slow, before the conversations get heated there feels like there’s a little bit of line reciting rather than acting, but once we are ten minutes into the show and she gets something to do other than exposition, she blossoms. She has a great scene where she finally loses all patience with Virginia and curses her out in Spanish, you feel the heat in that moment and it’s electrifying. Of the four leads Rick Lamers as Frank struggles the most but it’s not a bad performance. It feels like the character is given some business to do that would be hard for anyone to make plausible. There’s a little boy quality to him with his gardening that just seems out of touch with his station in life and perceived place in society. Perhaps it’s the size of the stage working against him. For example, when he’s given a minute or two to show his joy of gardening, he has to content himself with wandering around the 10 x 10 space. His choices probably make it easier to stay busy in that time, but they sort of make us wonder if he’s all there or not.

Native Gardens was directed by Adlyn Carreras and she has a real feel for these characters and the situation. She finds the balance not letting the border dispute slide too far one direction or the other, realizing that staging it as she does, she can draw more people into the characters headspace. If we can see ourselves in both sides, maybe we can find the way towards compromise in our own lives. Robin McIntyre’s set design makes the best use of a stage that is a bit on the smaller size. As you can see in the photo at the top of the review the setting is the adjoining back yards of the two neighbors houses, both of which are well realized. My favorite element is the great oak tree in Pablo and Tania’s yard. It’s something that could have been just suggested by the dialogue and looks off stage or into the audience to indicate where it was located. I love that they actually built it and it looks great.

Native Gardens runs through February 26th at DalekoArts in New Prague, it’s a bit of a trek but it’s always worth it. For more information and to purchase tickets go to

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