Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Native Gardens
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Arsonists

Dan Domingues, Jacqueline Correa, Sally Wingert,
and Steve Hendrickson

Photo by Dan Norman
Sometimes a garden is just a garden and sometimes it's a staging ground for bad behavior. Playwright Karen Zacarías has set up Native Gardens, now at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater, as a backyard dispute between neighbors that spirals into an examination of assumptions, unearned privilege, and other meaty topics—and it's funny, too.

Joseph Tilford's scenic design focuses on the backyards of two brick houses in a genteel Washington neighborhood. From the audience's perspective, the house at right is elegant and well-kept with a resplendent formal garden. The house at left is rather shabby, with straggly plants here and there and a large oak tree dominating the scene.

The well-tended house and garden belong to baby boomer couple Frank (Steve Hendrickson), a federal employee, and his wife Virginia (Sally Wingert), an engineer who works for a defense contractor. The new owners of the other house are youthful strivers Pablo (Dan Domingues), a lawyer who wants to be the first Latino partner at his firm, and his wife Tania (Jacqueline Correa), finishing her dissertation while heavily pregnant. Tania's done a lot of research into "native gardens" that use indigenous plants rather than invasive species and wants an unstructured look for their yard. Everyone's happy, right?

Because this is a play, Zacarías ratchets up the tension: Pablo has invited the rest of his firm to a barbecue the same day as a regional horticultural show that Frank has never won. When it appears that Frank's garden encroaches on Pablo and Tania's property, the battle lines are drawn—right across one of the flower beds.

Director Blake Robison unobtrusively oversees the escalation of hostilities between the demographically significant couples. Frank and Virginia assume that Pablo and Tania are Mexican, but Pablo grew up wealthy in Chile and Tania is a Latina from the southwestern U.S. Frank may be an old-line New Englander, but Virginia is Polish American and a breaker of glass ceilings. The message is obvious: Making assumptions is a bad idea. (Also, they all listen to NPR and read the Washington Post.)

The play is amusing and entertaining, if it doesn't say anything new. Washington audiences will enjoy seeing a play that focuses on their hometown, as opposed to the political side of D.C., and Zacarías grounds the play in references that will go right past non-residents, as when Frank names trendy neighborhoods where Pablo and Tania could have bought a house instead of this bastion of tradition, and Tania and Virginia quote local advertising slogans at each other.

Arena Stage
A co-production with Guthrie Theater
Native Gardens
September 15th - October 22nd, 2017
By Karen Zacarías
Tania Del Valle: Jacqueline Correa
Pablo Del Valle: Dan Domingues
Frank Butley: Steve Hendrickson
Virginia Butley: Sally Wingert
Supplemental ensemble: Guadalupe Campos, Oscar Ceville, Javier Del Pilar, Christopher Rios
Directed by Blake Robison
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or