Frank and Virginia Butley (played to perfection by Twin Cities favorites Steve Hendrickson and Sally Wingert) have lived in this upscale DC neighborhood for decades and are nearing retirement age. They're pleased to welcome new neighbors and expectant parents Tania and Pablo Del Valle (equally wonderful out-of-towners Jacqueline Correa and Dan Domingues) to the fixer-upper next door. All is perfectly pleasant between them, despite the Butley's awkward assumption that the Del Valles are Mexican (they're not - he's from Chile and her family has lived in New Mexico for generations) and Tania's descriptions of her plans to plant a native garden* that is much more environmentally friendly than Frank's pretty and pristine flowers. The pleasantness dissipates when the Del Valles tear down the ugly chain link fence between the two yards and start to build a new wooden fence, in preparation for a party to impress Pablo's law firm colleagues. While the Butleys are happy about the new fence, they are not happy when it's discovered that the Del Valles' property actually extends two feet into Frank's prize (or honorable mention) flower beds. The disagreement over land, borders, and gardening turns ugly as each side refuses to give up what they believe is rightfully theirs. But ugly in a funny and yes, disarming way, as director Blake Robison keeps the tone of the humor just right, never descending into mean or uncomfortable territory.
|the Del Valles vs. the Butleys (photo by Dan Norman)|
|Frank and Ginny welcome Tania and Pablo|
(Steve Hendrickson, Jacqueline Correa, Dan Domingues,
and Sally Wingert, photo by Dan Norman)
This play is feel-good without being treacly, bitingly funny without being offensive, in a way that feels like a balm to our nation's divided and hostile soul. The playwright suggests that the play can be "a tool for being able to start different kinds of difficult conversations about class, about race, about taste and about ways of coming around for social justice and civility." If we can all laugh at ourselves, laugh with our neighbors, and realize we're not really that different, maybe we'll be OK. At least for the enjoyable 90 minutes spent in the Native Gardens.
Native Gardens continues through August 20.
*Digression: I really want to plant a native garden in my tiny backyard. I mean, it kind of already is, as I do nothing to it and just let whatever wants to grow, grow. That's not entirely a solution, and I would love to cultivate native prairie plants that are healthy for the earth, don't look like an overgrown weed jungle, and don't require me to do much in the way of upkeep.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.