Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MUST SEE: The Guthrie's Extraordinary Native Gardens

You NEED to spice up your summer with this hilarious, poignant, perfectly timed show. 


Photo by Dan Norman

I'm not gonna lie: Last weekend I just wasn't feeling going to the Guthrie. 

I mean don't get me wrong, I love it there and I love live theater (heck, I do have this blog after all). But I was feeling a little beaten down from a long work week, it was gorgeous outside, and all I wanted to do was throw on my favorite athleisure and take a long walk outside to the greenest patio in Minneapolis. 

I'm SO GLAD that I roused myself to go anyway, because I was treated to what may be my favorite Guthrie performance of all time: the delicious, delightful cast of Native Gardens

Photo by Dan Norman

Native Gardens tells the story of Tania and Pablo del Valle, first-time homeowners in a ritzy, waspy neighborhood, as they navigate their relationship with their new neighbors Frank and Virginia Butley. The Butleys have been living next door for decades and initially provide a warm (although somewhat ignorant) welcome, until the del Valles begin renovation work on their back yard. Upon revisiting the plans of their new home, the del Valles discover that what they assumed was the Butley's yard actually overtakes their own by two feet in width. Determined to reclaim their property and get their back yard sorted in time for hosting a work barbecue, the del Valles tackle the Butley's intrusion in a straightforward manner that is hardly well received. The ensuing conversations over whose property belongs to whom, what kind of values in property ownership really matter, an unbelievably hilarious and simultaneously finely nuanced exploration of racial stereotypes, and all sorts of other issues - ageism, sexism, classism, pretty much every ism there is - leads the audience through a riotous performance that left us breathless with laughter. 

Photo by Dan Norman

There are only four speaking roles in this show and each actor has knocked theirs out of the park. Anchoring the cast is Twin Cities legend Sally Wingert as the Halliburton contractor and ball buster Virginia Butley. Wingert can convey in a single raised eyebrow what many actors struggle to demonstrate in an entire monologue. Her perfectly forged iron-strong will is an excellent foil to Steve Hendrickson as Virginia's simpering, plant-obsessed husband Frank. Equally as formidable are Jacqueline Correa who is absolutely marvelous as the extremely pregnant, environmentally-focused Tania del Valle, and Dan Domingues, who is delicious as Tania's high-powered lawyer husband Pablo. Together this cast really lets sparks fly and they hold nothing back; there are word battles, hose battles, chainsaw threats, shrieks of defiance, spying on lawns in the middle of the night - the antics are unending. Each actor's total commitment to their part really sells the absurd (yet relatable!) plot of Native Gardens, and they are *so* worth going to see. 

Photo by Dan Norman

Hats off to the creative team because this production design is glorious. Despite the show's very brief run time of only 80 minutes and no intermission (music to my ears!!), each character has multiple costume changes that perfectly evoke their current status, be it a very pregnant woman gardening in overalls or a sumptuous cashmere sweater thrown over Virginia's waspy frame. We have Kara Harmon to thank for that delicious detail in costuming. And Joseph Tilford left no stone unturned in his unbelievably detailed set. Seriously, this scenic design has everything - a full size oak tree, lush garden spaces (with plants that actually release dirt when pulled up), wood chips flying from a chainsaw as it is released on the tree, and so much more. The show could have survived with a far more simplistic set but the rich attention to detail here really kicks Native Gardens up to the next level. I mean guys, they have a running chainsaw and a hose spraying all over - how can you beat that?! 

Photo by Dan Norman

Native Gardens is the rarest of plays that marries world-class writing, best-in-craft actors, a spectacularly detailed production design and perfectly paced timing to create a truly universal theater experience. Every character in this show is right and wrong about some things, making each of them relatable in some way to the audience. Despite the show's short run time each character is richly drawn, and the intimacy we share with them as they navigate this tricky situation of managing adjacent properties not only lets us in on all of the jokes but helps us truly empathize with each of their experiences. Thanks to Karen Zacarias' flawless script, Native Gardens is a master class in dismantling the stereotypes and assumptions we make about people upon appearance and demonstrates how we can't ever assume we know anything. I am convinced that any audience member of any age will adore this show, and thankfully you have a lot of time - through August 20! - to check it out. You absolutely need to buy tickets to see Native Gardens (it is worth the hour and a half you won't be outside, I promise). Find more information and buy tickets at this link