Thursday, August 30, 2018

Boundaries Strained in Native Gardens


Native Gardens

Written by Karen Zacarias
Directed by Amy Gonzalez

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 

Until September 16, 2018


Even before the play begins, the set of Karen Zacarias’ play Native Gardens tells a story.

The backyards of two townhouses sit side by side. On the left is a neat, orderly garden and patio, with furniture, flowers, and grass arranged just so, suggesting that whoever lives there lives by the rules. On the right is a similar structure that needs TLC but it is appealing in its unkempt wildness, including an impressively real-looking huge oak tree overhanging the neighbors' yard. Big kudos to set designer Andrea Bechert  for an amazing feat of stage construction, with real mulch, flowers, and feel.

Native Gardens explores how we protect our personal spaces with protective but not necessarily impermeable boundaries, something that any homeowner realizes about the realities of property lines, laws and history.

Tania (Marlene Martinez) and Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) visualize their new space
Tania, a young mother-to-be (played with earnest optimism by Marlene Martinez), emerges from the back of the shoddier house. she is soon joined by her husband Pablo, an ambitious young Chilean-American professional played with an earnest nervousness by Michael Evans Lopez.. Each is dreaming of what can be done with their new space: Tania envisions a native, pesticide-free habitat that will draw indigenous birds, bees and bugs, while  Pablo, in an impulse to impress his new boss, has invited the entire department over for a BBQ only six days away. After a moment of panic, the decision is made to have the party catered in the new yard which can be fixed up well enough except for the unsightly chain link fence that separates their space from the neighbors.

Frank (Jackson Davis) and Virginia (Amy Resnick) check out the new neighbors

As good neighbors, Tania and Pablo seek the approval of their established neighbors Frank (a composed yet finicky Jackson Davis) and Virginia (an inviting yet fierce Amy Resnick). The four get together in Frank and Virginia's yard, and usual chit chat unveils differences of opinion and attitude, as when Frank reveals how he douses his garden with pesticides amid other finicky actions to prepare for the annual garden competition, behavior that is anathema to Tania in sense of protection for the environment.

Tania and Pablo chat with Virginia and Frank
All four agree that the unsightly fence has to go, until good intentions are trumped by hard data when Pablo and Tania confirm that their property boundary legally extends into the neighbors yard--right through Frank’s cherished garden. This dilemma strains neighborliness to the breaking point, and suddenly the fence line escalates into a border dispute, creating fertile ground for humorous attempts to thwart the opposition. For example, Virginia attempts to cut down the beautiful oak tree, and Tania tries to keep peace within reason. Hilarious yet tense confusion and disagreement abound, masterfully directed by Amy Gonzalez, and the once-friendly neighbors lock horns until an event of life and death proportions puts property concerns in their perspective.

Virginia (Amy Resnick) and Frank (Jackson Davis) literally hold their ground against PO-Pablo (Michael Evans Lopez) and Tania (Marlene Martinez)
With a solid, well-crafted and fun script performed by top-notch actors, Native Gardens shows us how how our quickly-formed differences can dissolve  in the realization that we are all in this together.

Native Gardens
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Until September 16, 2018

Photography by Kevin Berne

CAST
Pablo — Michael Evans Lopez*
Tania — Marlene Martinez*
Virginia — Amy Resnick*
Frank — Jackson Davis*
Landscaper — Laura Espino
Landscaper — Mauricio Suarez

PRODUCTION TEAM
Scenic Designer — Andrea Bechert
Costume Designer — Noah Marin
Lighting Designer — Steven B. Mannshardt
Sound Designer — Jeff Mockus
Casting Director — Jeffrey Lo
Los Angeles Casting Director — Julia Flores
Stage Manager — Sara Sparks*
Assistant Stage Manager — Amy Smith Goodman*

*Equity Members

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Serious Activism as Crazy Caper


#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

August 10 -26
At Z Below, 450 Florida St, San Francisco
Written by Anne Galjour
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Presented by The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective


The hashtag in the title sets the time and tone of this play by the accomplished Bay Area playwright Anne Galjour who, with the “Sisterhood of Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective,” has brought forth the World Premiere of #getgandhi, a sitcom-like production that echoes the outraged chorus of the #metoo and #itsabouttime movements.

The play centers around three women: Miriam (a feisty Patricia Silver), an old school activist itching to fight for a cause; Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen), a gentle but perceptive yoga teacher; and Maya (Miranda Swain), a spirited young artist who knows her way around Burning Man. Although each has a unique perspective, they are united in their disgust at what they deem to be hypocrisy of that guru of nonviolence, Gandhi, who had naked young women sleep next to him to test his spiritual resolve. In other words, he used these young women, an act that is simply unforgivable.
Miriam (Patricia Silver) and Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen)

But what to do? Miriam poses a call to action: topple the bronze statue of Gandhi from its pedestal in San Francisco’s Embarcadero. At first the quest seems quixotic, but eventually Helen and Maya pitch in to bring Gandhi down, an endeavor that turns into a mad caper full of fun comic moments somewhat reminiscent of I Love Lucy.

The frenetic, farcical urgency of the three women is evened out by laid-back Bob (a wonderfully mellifluous Howard Swain), Helen’s partner of many years who embodies mellowness as he patiently tries to be as supportive as possible to the worried Helen. Their bond is strong, even as they interact with their daughter Rebecca (a cool Lyndsy Kail) who is married to a Republican political aspirant.

Maya, newly schooled by Miriam and Helen in the art of protest, wants to do more than topple the statue. She aims to create something new, such as dressing the statue of Gandhi in a pink sari and pink pussy hat.

With crisp, vivid and fun dialog, each character’s voice is clear and understood.  Although some scenes (such as the opening yoga class) could benefit from a little more editing, #getgandhi works as a whole and ends with Maya’s delightful dance with her arms like Shiva, showing us that it takes the movement of many to effect change.

Shiva


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective presents
#GETGANDHI
A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy

CAST
Jeri Lynn Cohen (Helen)
Miranda Swain (Maya)
Patricia Silver (Miriam)
Howard Swain (Bob)
Lyndsy Kail (Rebecca)

CREATIVE TEAM
Nancy Carlin (Director)
Julius Rea (Assistant Director)
John Mayne (Scenic Designer)
Michelle Mulholland (Costume Designer)
Kate Boyd (Lighting Designer)
Cliff Caruthers (Sound Designer)
Tony Guidry (Stage Manager)
Lawrence Helman (Publicist)