Border Dispute

Border Dispute

Good fences make good neighbors at T2


When you walk into TheatreSquared’s Spring Theatre — the smaller of the two performance halls in its new, 50,000-square-foot building — the intimacy of the space might leave you slightly breathless.

It helps that the theater company has chosen “Native Gardens” as the first full production to mount in the space. The play, by Karen Zacarias, takes place in the back yards of two side-by-side townhouses in a well-established neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The towering, two-story set, beautifully designed by Tanya Orellana, makes viewers feel as though they are observing the show from just over an adjoining fence — peering in at the ever-increasing tension between neighbors as they wrestle with the new discovery that their property line has been misdrawn for decades.

In fact, says actor Marissa Castillo, there are moments when the audience “may want to shrink away, but they have no choice but to lean in.” Castillo’s character, grad student Tania, has, with her lawyer husband Pablo (Stephen L. Reyes), moved next door to the older, more conservative couple Frank (Bill Rogers) and Virginia (Lauren Halyard). The first seeds of conflict are planted when Frank — an avid gardener with a well-clipped, tidy backyard garden that has just missed first place in the Potomac Horticultural Society’s Best Garden competition for a decade — finds out that Tania plans on giving her backyard up to nature by encouraging a native garden that will allow a variety of bugs and bees to happily flourish. Throw in a disagreement over environmentalism, a tad bit of xenophobia and a dab of ageism, and Robert Frost’s classic line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” ends up being sorely tested even before the border dispute hits.

Though the subject matter is chock full of timely, hot button topics that the country finds itself embroiled in lately, the play is not a heavy treatise on what divides us. Instead, agree the director and cast members, it’s an optimistic comedy that, they hope, will inspire conversations that encourage understanding over division.

“I laughed out loud at a coffee shop and made my partner read it with me,” says director Rebecca Rivas on her first reading of the script. “I said, ‘You have to read what these people are saying to each other.’” Rivas, a native of El Paso, Texas, says she felt an immediate affinity for what the play was trying to say about neighbors and border disputes. “My mom would talk about how they would have a picnic there, on the border, and people would have a picnic across the way. There were cottonwood trees and a river between these people, but we were the same. … It was a seamless existence. There are things that make us different, and that’s OK — you embrace that and kind of deal with the complications of that. I think this play does that very well. I’m excited to hear the conversations in [TheatreSquared’s bar/cafe] The Commons and hear what people have to say when they see it. Hopefully, it will get us talking to each other a little bit about all of the really complicated nuances within the United States.”

“The best way to have these conversations is through laughter,” adds Castillo. “We’ve talked a lot about how, with the internet, sometimes you’re just yelling at each other. But the characters in this show have a lot of civil conversations with each other, about things that are a little uncomfortable. But everything comes down to [the fact that] these people have to live next door to each other, so they have to work through it and talk to each other.” Similarly, she says, “we all have to live in this country, together.”

A combination of Zacarias’ writing and the innate likability of the cast — which also includes Lauren Wagner and Branson Marcus — makes for a show that encourages empathy for all sides.

“I was struck by how good these people are, all of them,” says Rogers. “You get the sense that these are people who are full of heart. They want to live next door to each other.”

“It’s absolutely a comedy, [it] just happens to have some [serious] subject matter,” concludes Rivas. “You don’t feel [preachiness], ever, in this play. You’re mostly just laughing.”



‘Native Gardens’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday & Sunday, through Nov. 10

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$49

INFO — 777-7477Border Dispute

Categories: Cover Story