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“Native Gardens,” Davidson Community Players Season Opener, Plants More Than Pretty Flowers     

by | Feb 28, 2023

What a way to tackle diversity! Playwright Karen Zacarias cleverly sprouts controversial social, cultural, and intergenerational issues in her one-act play, Native Gardens, directed by Robert Coppel at the Davidson Community Players Armour Street Theatre.

Without any knowledge about the play, I didn’t know what to expect and was taken by surprise. I’m pleasantly impressed! Native Gardens has so much more to offer than comparative issues of horticulture.

The humorous drama unfolds in the backyards of an upscale neighborhood where an aging couple, Virginia and Frank Butley played by Jean Kadela and Steven J. Schreur are well established. Frank hopes to win the best neighborhood garden award he has coveted for years meticulously weeding and feeding his beautiful flowers every day.

Frank is retired but his wife, Virginia, prefers to retain her job with an engineering firm and is well connected throughout the town. Their well-appointed tidy yard is separated by a small makeshift fence from their neighbor’s neglected courtyard.

Abigail Pagan and Anthony Pasero as Tania and Pablo Del Valle. (John McHugh photo)

Tania and Pablo Del Valle, a Latino couple, played by Abigail Pagán and Anthony Pasero move into the house next door. Their unkempt yard needs lots of tender, loving care.

Pablo is a Chilean who grew up in the affluent district of Las Condes in Santiago. A hard-working attorney hoping to make partner, in the firm, Pablo has invited his boss and the entire firm for an outdoor barbecue at their new home next Saturday.

Abigail plays a very pregnant Tania who grew up on the border of New Mexico learning to cultivate the earth and what can grow from her long-standing US citizens Mexican family.

Elated with her new home, Tania anxiously seeks the opportunity to develop biodiversity in her garden by cultivating the existing native plants it contains. Frank, her neighbor calls them weeds. And that’s how the sparring begins.

It’s great to see Abigail back on the DCP stage—her performances are always a treat. She plays the feisty Tania with elán and doesn’t miss a beat.

Neither does Jean Kadela in her role as the pleasantly passive Virginia who in frustration comes to admit, “swearing in Spanish seems so much more satisfying,” after she incites a ruckus.

Oh yes! There’s plenty of swearing—all in Spanish! Using the choicest of well-known words, the terms turn out to be funny at times. Luisa Angelina Beneduce and Bianca Mota playing two hired Landscapers who don’t speak English, snicker with glee whenever cuss words flow!

No one murders the Spanish language. Being bilingual, I’m sensitive to the treatment of foreign terms onstage. Everyone pronounces their Spanish correctly, belted in anger or mumbled in jest.

Anthony Pasero should know. He teaches drama in Spanish at Davidson College. Tony gives Pablo sufficient ebb and flow as a corporation climbing attorney or a demanding new homeowner measuring the limits of what he owns.

Although Steven Shreur appeared jittery at times on opening night, I suspect DCP has found a new leading man. He’s just returned to the stage after a 35-year hiatus. Amateur horticulturalist Frank Butley is his perfect renewed debut role.

Does Frank finally win a prize for his beautiful flower garden? Does Tania produce a biodiversity yard or a child—or both? It’s worthwhile trying to find out. Native Gardens is a sleeper! There’s a lot to think and laugh about in the play—so á propos of the times. Performances continue, Thursday through Sunday over the next two weekends until March 12.

Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active, founding member of Lake Norman Writers, Connie just released her latest book, "The Mongrel, Bi-cultural Adventures of a Latina-Scandinavian Youth," a memoir about her years growing up in Mexico.​

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