As spring awakens all around us, we thought it would be a nice time to turn our attention to our gardens… and so, I am delighted to welcome you to Karen Zacarias’ beautiful play, Native Gardens. On the surface, this sparkling comedy is about different styles of approaching gardening. But Zacarias’ project is more complicated than it appears at first glance, which is why it is such a perfect play for us here at Trinity Rep.
Things get interesting right in the title of the piece with the word “Native.” Native can mean the place where one was born, as in “native land.” Or, it can mean belonging to something by nature, as in “native beauty.” It is also applied to indigenous peoples, particularly as it relates to colonialism, as in “native guides.” I think Zacarias wants us to examine all of these uses as it applies to the title of the play.
Who is “native” in this play? The characters Frank and Virginia have lived in this neighborhood for a long time before the arrival of Tania and Pablo. Does that qualify them as the natives? As property lines blur, and the question of ownership of the land arises, who was here “first” is thrown into high relief. Is recent ownership more important than original boundaries? And who decides where the boundaries lie in the first place?
Then there is the question of what is native in the garden. If the transplanted plants have been here longer, are they now the native plants? Tomatoes are indigenous to South America, not Italy, but can you imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes? What makes something native to a place is clearly of great interest to Zacarias and her larger project.
These are all questions that resonate profoundly with our current debates around immigration and naturalization in this country. Ultimately, though, the playwright’s generous spirit allows for many interpretations, and questions of “nativity” disappear in simple, human kindness. I only wish politicians could examine the nuance of such questions of interpretation with the same grace and generosity. Alas, it seems that playwrights must lead the way again….
This production has some delightful surprises on our creative team as well. We are so thrilled to welcome back Christie Vela to Trinity Rep. A longtime member of the Dallas Theater Center resident acting company, Christie was last seen on Trinity’s stage as Goneril in our production of King Lear. She is directing Native Gardens and has a history with playwright Zacarias, which makes this homecoming even sweeter.
So welcome to our gardens, happy spring, and we are so happy to have you with us here at Trinity Repertory Company. I look forward to seeing you in the theater.