Charleston Stage Ensemble Cast Offer Up Riveting & Funny Rendition of Contemporary Theatre Production
Jeff Walker, Entertainment Review
Two worlds collide and a neighborhood border war unfolds as the Charleston Stage Company turn out a riveting and outrageously humorous rendition of 'Native Gardens'. From the brilliant mind of playwright Karen Zacarías 'Native Gardens' has become one of the most celebrated stage productions over the past several years, with regional theatre groups lining up to present it. Charleston Stage do comedic justice to Zacarias' stage play.
Frank and Virginia Butley are a soon to be retired set in their ways republican couple living in a lush, historic Washington D.C. neighborhood. However, their world gets turned upside down when Latinx couple Tania and Pablo Del Valle move in next door. The twosomes are congenial at the start, but when the Tania and Pablo decide to replace a worn down fence, they discover they own more backyard than the Butley's are willing to surrender, especially since the new barrier may disrupt Frank's beloved floral garden.
Charleston Stage bring this hot button comedy to life at the Dock Street Theatre. The ensemble cast including the four principle actors together embody the original intent of Zacarias' theatrical gem that unearths the differences we share in regards to age, race, politics, taste, and culture. However unlike real life, the play showcases the differences in comedic form. The characters are likable even as a neighborly feud slowly kindles.
Don Brandenburg is perfectly cast as Frank, a headstrong man with deep roots in the community who rather enjoys winning the annual neighborhood gardening competition. Brandenburg is no stranger to the Dock Street stage having first produced at the historic theatre 25 years ago. He brings the right amount of pent up angst to Frank, albeit at just a simmering pace, all along posing the question 'can old dog learn new tricks'.
The role of Virginia is left in the capable hands of Melonea Marek who like Brandenburg is comfortable inside the confines of Dock Street. Marek steps nicely into the character, presenting Virginia as the more restrained neighbor until she gets in a war of words with Tania, and the 'isms' begin to fly, like ageism, racism, and the other 'N' word aka narcissism. The banter between the two ladies is contemporary and whimsical.
Resident Charleston Stage actor Cody Elsensohn steps into the lofty shoes of Pablo, a high powered DC attorney hell bent on claiming the extra two feet of property he's entitled too while entertaining his very pregnant wife. Elsensohn distinguishes Pablo as both civil yet determined. His exchanges with Brandenburg are timely, super-charged, and hilarious. A nice range of emotions overall.
Kayla Green makes her Charleston Stage debut as Pablo's better half Tania. Green is lively and exuberant as a newly expectant mother with a multitude of passion, trying her best to keep the peace until her own pressure cooker of emotions boils over. Green's plays wonderfully off her fellow co-stars.
The ensemble cast members Cedar Valdez, Jenna Barricklo, and Carlos Grace complement the production as surveyors and construction crews, yet are never more graceful and witty as they bounce to appropriate music when deconstructing and reconstructing Frank's cherished flower bed.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a big shout out to any and all who worked on set design including carpenters, painters, and technicians. The Dock Street Theatre was ripe with texture and exuberance. The collective team transformed the stage into a double dose of welcoming backyards, rich with vibrant floral colors.
How often do we stand our ground, or after exchanging fiery barbs is there room for compromise. Will the two couples find common ground or will it take new life for opposites to attract. Do fences make good neighbors or is being de 'fence' sive' a recipe to create unwelcome relationships. Native Gardens' is a laugh out loud romp from start to finish.
The cast and crew under the co-direction of Marybeth Clark and Henry Clay Middleton breath comedic life into Zacarias' masterpiece meant not only to engage audiences regarding diversity, but introduce more stage opportunities for Latinx characters. Charleston Stage Company's presentation of 'Native Gardens' is easily two delightful hours spent at the theatre. Weekend performances run through March 26th. For more visit https://charlestonstage.com/shows-and-tickets/native-gardens