Mostly appearing in dark green uniforms of professional landscapers, the five performers (Baker Adames, Luis A. Figueroa Rosado, Isabel Rodriguez, Devante Vanderpool and Aaron J. Mavins) serve as silent observers of an escalating backyard border dispute between two couples in a historic Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
On one side are the Del Valles, Tania and Pablo (Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez and Erick Gonzalez), new to the neighborhood and expecting their first child. Next door are the Butleys, Virginia and Frank (Anne-Marie Cusson and Paul DeBoy), long-time residents, well-established, well-off and white. What starts with friendly chatter over wine and chocolates rapidly deteriorates when Pablo and Tania discover that Frank’s prize-winning garden actually extends two feet into the Del Valle’s property.
The border dispute in miniature that ensues allows playwright Karen Zacarias to lampoon some hot button contemporary issues including privilege, immigration, gardening philosophy and border walls. Her light-hearted touch elicits more laughter than consternation and allows her to emphasize that for all the issues driving people apart, there are more important commonalities that can bring people together.
Still the playwright, a recent U.S citizen originally from Mexico, has points to make, and the presence of the five gardeners helps. As the upscale couples squabble over property lines and horticultural practices, the gardeners are digging in the dirt.
“These silent Latinx characters who don’t have a voice are very important,” Zacarias explained. “It was important for me to make them Latinx for practical and political purposes, to make a point about who’s actually changing the landscape and who’s doing the work.”
They also get in on the laughter. When Tania unleashes a verbal torrent in Spanish at Virginia, it is the gardeners who actually understand what’s been said.
Figueroa Rosado has been an actor since childhood and is currently a nurse technician at Upstate Medical University. He plays a city inspector as well a gardener and said it is an honor to be a part of the play that he terms topical, and to perform at Syracuse Stage. “‘Native Gardens’ is an amazing story told in a hilarious manner and ties in with what is happening in 2019 in our country,” he said.
Co-gardener Mavins concurred noting that “our nation can identify with ‘Native Gardens’ as it brings forth the issues of the current political climate in a relatable manner.” An actor by hobby and part-time information management student at Syracuse University, Mavins said he is happy to be a part of this production, which he believes reflects the community and involves its members as more than just audience. Mavins also portrays a surveyor in the show.
The youngest member of the community and the only female gardener is Rodriguez, a sophomore majoring in Musical Theater at Syracuse University’s Department of Drama. “Native Gardens” marks her Syracuse Stage debut. “I am very excited to be in this play and a part of this cast, which has a majority of Hispanics, which you do not see often,” she said.
“Native Gardens” also marks the Syracuse Stage directorial debut of Melissa Crespo. She said she hopes the play will get people to talk to one another, as the playwright intended. She is also pleased that the production offers a rare chance for local actors. “This play is a wonderful opportunity to be inclusive of the Latinx community and to be able to mix local talent into the cast,” she said.
Posted Feb 26, 2019 as Marketing Intern for Syracuse Stage