REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Native Gardens

A world premiere cultural comedy.

By Karen Zacarias.

Directed by Marti Lyons.

At Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago.

As generations clash, comedy becomes sit-com-ish, then silly.

The real star in playwright Karen Zacarias’s Native Gardens is the set (designes by William Boles) that depicts two backyards of two homes in DC. One is the showcase garden and the other a weed-infested yard with a large tree. These two yards indicate the values and desires of their occupants. The lush gardens is the product of Frank Butley (Patrick Clear), a near-retired government bureaucrat and his wife Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks), Polish-American engineer. They are seniors, Washington Establishment Republicans who have lived in their house for many decades.

The new neighbors are the Del Valle’s. Pablo (Gabriel Ruiz), from Chile is an attorney trying to make partner at a DC law firm. Tania (Paloma Nozicka), is a very pregrant phd student wife who is Mexican-American from New Mexico. This young liberal couple are polar opposites from their brauman senior neighbors.

Ealry in this 90 minute one-act, we see how the neighbors exchange information that reveals the radical differneces between generations. This is a funny section of cultural comic exchanges that unfortunately becomes a silly TV sit-com-ish physical battle once the Del Valle’s discover that Frank’s hydrangeas, peonies and chrysanthemums are growing in the two feet of the Del Valle’s yeard. This causes a neighbor versus neighbor dispute that goes from a civil discussion to cultural insults to legal actions to physical actions that become acts of silly violence including throwing acorns and choping at the Del Valle’s tree.

While much of the general arguments and insults sure make the older Butley’s look (and act immature), the young liberals come off as semi-heros as the battle over the yard emerges.  It is well known that many neighborhood land disputes end up in ugly violence, Native Gardens has an unsatisfying ‘happy ending.’ This play is quite funny mostly, the coceit is plausible yet quickly moves from funny, problemic to silly farce. The undertow here is that the older folks are cliches and the young liberals should rule making an uneven age bias obvious.

But Native Gardens is well acted by Brooks and Clear in a thankless roles. But, next to the terrific set, Paloma Nozicka as the pregrant Tanis steals her scenes. Unfortunately, the over zelous opening night audience pacted with friends of the cast and crew often laughed before the punch lines were rendered making it difficult to hear. Yet, despite that and the silliness near the play’s end, Native Gardens is a hilarious comedy of culture that satisfies their target audience. It is worth a look.


Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000,, tickets $15 – $60,  Tuesdays -Fridays at7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.