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This Thorny Comedy Turns a Neighborhood Rivalry into an All-Out Border Dispute

Mexican immigrant Karen Zacarías is one of the most-produced playwrights in the nation. Her new play Native Gardens brings national headlines to our own backyards through a highly relatable, satirical comedy that opens at The Armory on May 18.

Presented by Portland Center Stage April 24, 2019

Portland loves its prize-winning roses. Portland also loves sustainable gardens featuring all-native plants. In Native Gardens, gardening practices and cultures collide when a dispute over a fence line turns well-intentioned neighbors into feuding enemies.

Meeting the neighbors: (L-R) Erick González, Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez, Anne-Marie Cusson, and Paul DeBoy.

With a script featuring snappy lines that could be pulled straight from recent news headlines, Native Gardens has been praised as “a necessary pressure valve for the tensions of our times” (The Post-Standard) and “a true breath of comic fresh air ... biting, perceptive, and ultimately hopeful” (DC Theatre Scene).

The border dispute begins (L-R): Paul DeBoy, Erick González, and Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez.

Karen Zacarías got the idea for the play when she was at a dinner party listening to friends talk about their issues with their neighbors. “The play ended up be­coming a symbol of what’s going on in our country, a way to be able to talk about important topics like entitle­ment, white privilege, and the border through the lens of horticulture and make it funny,” she said. “Most communities can relate to what’s going on, no matter what side of the fence they’re on.”

“My hope is that people will take a moment to ponder what it will take for them to be a better neighbor. I want simple things out of my plays. You can still laugh, have fun, and talk about hard things in a way where nobody’s off the hook.”

Nerves begin to fray: Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez and Erick González.

Native Gardens has become one of the hottest plays in the country. Portland Center Stage at The Armory is partnering with two New York theater companies — Syracuse Stage and Geva Theatre Center — to create a brand new production that marks an exciting first for all three companies: The design team is made up of all women of color.

The production coming to The Armory first opened at Syracuse Stage in New York and has been earning rave reviews. BroadwayWorld gave a special call out to the all-woman, all-POC design team: “Scenic designer Shoko Kambara has outdone herself with this spectacular set ... Dawn Chiang's lighting design is perfection. Lux Haac's costumes beautifully capture these very different couples and Elisheba Ittoop's sound design and original music is spot on. ... Native Gardens directed by Melissa Crespo is a must-see.” 

Native Gardens touches on racism, ageism, and the American dream,” said costume designer Lux Haac. “Our production asks audiences to examine their own preconceived notions about what an American looks like. In these politically divisive times, it’s wonderful to be able to work together to bring audiences a story that highlights the importance of finding common ground.

The battle erupts: Paul DeBoy and Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez, with cast members from the Syracuse Stage production.

Don’t miss this hilarious new play! Native Gardens opens at The Armory on May 18 and runs through June 16. Tickets start at $25. More information can be found at www.pcs.org/gardens.

The dirt on Native Gardens: Find out how the production team created the dirt for the onstage gardens.

A preview of Native Gardens: This trailer from Syracuse Stage previews the production coming to The Armory.