by Braxton Crewell

Before rehearsals began for Native Gardens, Trinity Rep’s Braxton Crewell got to know more about Daniel Duque-Estrada, Pablo in this production and an actor who — after roles in Like Sheep to Water, or Fuente Ovejuna, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, and Othello — is beginning to be more of a familiar face around Trinity Rep.

Daniel Duque-Estrada as Pablo and Maria Gabriela Rosado Gonzalez as Tania in NATIVE GARDENS written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Christie Vela. Costume design by Patrick Johnson. set design by Dahlia Al-Habieli, lighting design by Aaron Johansen, sound design by John Flores. Photo by Mark Turek

Braxton Crewell: How has life been since graduating in 2013 from the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program?

Daniel Duque-Estrada: I’ve been really lucky to have the rarest of experiences as an actor: I’ve only ever worked in resident acting companies for years at a time. I passed up New York and LA, and lived in Texas and Oregon. Saw a lot of beauty, learned a lot of hard lessons, and grew in ways I never could have predicted. And humbling. Nothing takes you down a peg like the real world, even when you feel (like I did in 2013) that you’re ready for the life you say you want. That sounds tough, but it feels empowering: I feel like I’ve earned the life I wanted.

Braxton: What are some of the things you have enjoyed since you’ve been back?

Daniel: My God! There’s so much. But I have to start with the food scene. They call me the “seagull” in the green room because I’ll eat anything not nailed down. But it really is a first-class food scene. But truly, I’ve enjoyed just being in Providence. When I was a grad student, life was really intense, and it was easy to forget the life happening all around you and the things that make this place unique. I feel like I’m discovering it every day now I’m actually IN it rather than just passing through.

Braxton: Are you excited about Native Gardens?

Daniel: I am excited about Native Gardens. But I have to say, the big reason I am is because of the director, Christie Vela. I can’t deny that my reasons are just as much personal as they are professional. Christie and I were both members of the resident acting company at the Dallas Theater Center and we immediately became glued to each other. She was always there for me when things got real, on stage and off. We’re hard-core geeks about the things we love. We’re even planning to sit through the Twin Peaks revival together! She keeps me honest both as a human and an actor, and she is just one of the best humans I’ve ever met. And we laugh. Constantly. And in Spanish! Which is no small comfort to me.

Braxton: What kind of audience do you hope comes to Native Gardens? Moreover, what is a take-away you hope everyone can derive from the show?

Daniel: Well, I hope we get all kinds of people! First and foremost, this is a comedy. Laughing, especially now, is more important than just about anything a bunch of strangers can do in a room together. It’s something that I think Karen Zacarías is really good at: her plays take these American narrative forms — romantic comedy, farcical elements, even the television sitcom — and plugs in the Hispanic element, and her experience as a Latina in the world. That’s the simple beauty of this play: to laugh at the things we believe, how those beliefs can be hidden from us, and what happens when those beliefs are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light. Because then we can see them for what they are, outside of us and in relation to other people. And laugh at the absurdity of ever having believed it in the first place. This play reminds me that beliefs and prejudices are not facts. We inherit them from the culture we grew up in, our parents, the people in our midst, the media we consume. Our beliefs are not inherently our own. And that, to me, is not only funny but cathartic. Because once we know that and when the laughter dies down a bit, then we can ask: what DO I believe?