|(L-R) Bruce Davison, Frances Fisher, Jessica Meraz and Christian Barillas in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse. // Photo by Jenny Graham|
NATIVE GARDENS by Karen Zacarías
Costanza Lives! You can take the actor out of the sitcom, but you can’t take the sitcom out of the actor. Since bringing the character of Larry David to life through his off the wall character George Costanza in the never ending sitcom “Seinfeld,” Jason Alexander has gained prominence for his work as a director for the stage. The feeling of a situation comedy in Native Gardens, having dramatic twists and turns, is amplified by a chorus of guys: The Gomez Bros (Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II) who greet the audience as we enter. They are gardeners who dance. Set changes and presenting the passage of time is their responsibility and even after the curtain call, they’re still rocking the Playhouse.
There is a warm subtext to this important theatre piece that does its best to show how culture and prejudice… and success: both nouveau and landed success.. may find a way to middle ground. Herein lies the tale.
Virginia and Frank (Frances Fisher and Bruce Davison) are a mostly retired couple who have lived for forty years on a comfortable plot of land where Frank has raised his prize petunias.. (I can’t remember if they were actually petunias but the flowers are competition ready and there’s the rub). New next door neighbor Pablo (Christian Barillias... doing a 180 on his turn as Reynaldo on ABC’s Modern Family) is an aspiring attorney, born in Chile, anxious to make partner in his law firm. Tania, a New Mexcan, (Jessica Maraz) is expecting a little visitor soon. Even though they are still moving forward with remodeling the interior of their home, Pablo has foolishly agreed to have the law firm partners over for a BBQ! Soon! The pregnant missus will have to engineer a lot in the few days they have to make ready for the party. In preparation of the yard, Frank and Virginia have surprisingly and happily agreed to a rebuild of an ivy covered wire fence that has stood between the two properties for years. Pablo and Tania discover that the property line has been improperly drawn and that THEY own an additional twenty-four inches into the prize petunias of Frank!
One issue that I take with Alexander’s directorial choices is that this cast of heavy hitter actors has been pumped almost into a frenzy from the get go. “Bigger, Faster, Louder” is not necessarily Better. The play is well written and with David Meyer’s gorgeous set and Thomas Ontiveros's effective lighting (the Playhouse puts the money on the stage, for sure..) all is in place for a lesson in tolerance … which we eventually get to, but Alexander's somewhat presentational style gives the characters a two dimensional quality.
As Virginia, Ms Fisher comes on strong as a successful engineer! She’s worked her way into leadership at Lockeed-Martin regardless of her being a woman. Of this she’s very proud. Fisher's privileged/entitled quality along with Davison’s over the top approach to gardening and the loss of his precious petunias are all appropriate given Alexander’s specific direction.
Pablo and Tania are excited for the birth of their baby and the rush job to create a yard for the Bar-B-Que with plants native (Native Gardens) to the area plays to stereotypes. Depending on one's political point of view, we may be at odds with ourselves trying to decide which family to support! Unexpected and clever maneuvering by Frank and Ginny may be the key to fixing things, but as the story gets hot, deus ex machina and the stork fly in to save the day.
|(L-R) Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II |
Photo by Jenny Graham
Native Gardens is a crowd pleaser with the Gomez boys after the curtain call dancing the audience out the door. This is a show that brings audiences in. With the strong new leadership at the Playhouse, we can expect more of the same.
NATIVE GARDENS by By Karen Zacarías
Directed by Jason Alexander
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
Through September 30, 2018
Tickets and information: