by Rebecca Noon
One of the pleasures of working at Trinity Rep is getting to know the up-and-coming plays and playwrights making the rounds in theaters nationally. Every season we strive to produce shows that are relevant to what’s happening here and are also captivating communities across the country. In this way, Rhode Island participates in a national conversation while engaging in the issues of our time. Shows like The Mountaintop, Clybourne Park, Appropriate, and Skeleton Crew are all in that vein, having had successful runs around the country while also inspiring dialogue here in Providence.
Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías, which begins at Trinity Rep on April 5, is such a play, and we can’t wait to share it with you. In the last three years, the play has been at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Guthrie Theater, Arena Stage, Victory Gardens, Old Globe Theater, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Intiman Theater, Florida Studio Stage, Vermont Stage, and WaterTower Theater.
The action is set in two backyards, side by side. Frank and Virginia are an older couple that have been in the neighborhood for years while Pablo and Tania are a young couple who’ve just moved in. Native Gardens is full of good intentions and bad manners, but what makes it the perfect play of our moment is that it also addresses cultural assumptions based on age, ethnicity, race, and class — all told with a disarming amount of humor and love for all of the characters. I asked some of our cast members, community partners, as well as producers around the country who’ve put on Native Gardens what they love about it, and here’s what they said:
Danny Duque-Estrada, “Pablo” in Native Gardens: “What I’m looking forward to most is exploring this timely comedy with this particular group of exceptional artists with incredibly sharp points of view and voices with which to articulate them. For me personally, it means a great deal to play a character whose heritage mirrors my own, to finally share this part of myself with Trinity Rep audiences (who have always meant so much to me), and especially to be doing it with one of my very best friends directing, Christie Vela. After a few years into a career that has taken me all over the country, she remains, for me, the gold standard of an artist and human being.”
Marta Martinez, Executive Director of RI Latino Arts, Trinity Rep Community Partner: “On one side of the fence we have a white couple who has lived in their home for a long time. On the other enters a Latino couple who just moved in and brings their own traditions. Native Gardens is about racism, sexism, ageism, and cultural and economic privilege. Its message is about tolerance and specifically tells us that we should all be able to live next door to each other, whatever our background, age and politics. It’s relevant in many ways to today’s political climate, but it’s also funny, entertaining, and real.”
Karen Joy Asher, RI Wild Plant Society, Native Gardens Community Partner: “As a long-time member of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, my passion is gardening with native plants. When I heard that Trinity Rep was doing Native Gardens, I was totally thrilled. For many years RIWPS has been educating the public on the benefits of studying, protecting, and growing native plants. To have a play which brings this message to the public in a theatrical setting is like a dream come true. I can’t wait to see it!”
Edgar Dobie, Executive Director of Arena Stage, former producer of Native Gardens, and former Trinity Rep Executive Director: “It isn’t easy to predict what stories will resonate with audiences, but I imagine that Trinity Rep’s audience has similar concerns, hopes, and ideals as our Washington audiences, so they will enjoy Native Gardens. There is a conflict between neighbors, and the great thing about Karen’s play is that we are shown both sides and can see the similarities and the differences. I hope one of the similarities is laughing all the way to the box office bank.”
We can’t wait to see you at Native Gardens this April. We’ll all be ready for some springtime comedy by then!