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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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The play, “Native Gardens,” illustrates some divisions in our society today

The play, “Native Gardens,” illustrates some divisions in our society today

I recently went to a play at the Southern Rep Theatre in New Orleans entitled “Native Gardens” by Karen Zacarias. This brilliant comedy showcases some problems and divisions we are experiencing in our society today. Native Gardens looks at both sides of the story, or in this case, both sides of the fence. The show deals with border politics, ageism, sexism, racism, and everything in between.

In her play, Zacarias uses gardening as a way to introduce hot political topics in a way that does not upset or alarm her audiences. Her storyline is: Pablo, a high-powered lawyer, and Tania, his very pregnant wife, are realizing the American dream when they purchase a house next door to a retired couple, Virginia and Frank.

Pablo was born into a wealthy Chilean family but was disinherited when his parents discovered he was planning to marry Tania. She is a Hispanic American whose family has lived in New Mexico for more than 170 years but is still treated as second-class migrants.

At first, the Euro-American couple welcomes their new Latino neighbors and invites them over to have a glass of wine. When Pablo and Tania plan a barbeque in their backyard on Saturday, they discover something that sets off a nasty, escalating border war of words, threats and actions that challenge the whole notion of neighborliness. Both couples cast the other as racists, narrow-minded, belonging to the wrong political party, and not raised like them.

Pablo discovers that the fence separating their properties is in the wrong place and he wants to put up a new fence in the proper location. He also wants a new fence put up before the weekend when they are planning this backyard barbeque for his fellow lawyers.

Normally, this would not be a problem for Frank. However, he belongs to a garden club and has been the runner up for many years. The contest is the next Monday and he is hoping to become the new gardening champion. This fence that Pablo and Tania want to put up is in the middle of his flower garden, which means moving it would cost him the competition.

Disagreement over a long-standing fence line soon escalates into an all-out war of taste, class, privilege, and entitlement. Both couples “dig in” and fail to see the others’ point of view. They fail to compromise. Instead each couple thinks the worse of their new neighbors.

Audiences can identify with Virginia and Frank’s fight for the land they have always thought was theirs. Others will side with Pablo and Tania for standing up for what is rightly theirs. However, the most important message of this play is we need to listen to one another and be willing to compromise.

The play ends with Tania giving birth to her child. Suddenly, everything changes. Both couples rally around the new child. They call off the barbeque; the garden contest is no longer that important. They have de-escalated the name calling and both couples act as good neighbors who support each other and the new child that has just come into the world.

The moral of the story is that we always have to make sure we have our values straight. Put important things first. People are more important than things.

Mother Teresa gives us some good advice, “Follow the path of serenity. Why lose your temper if by losing it you offend God, trouble your neighbor and in the end have to set things aright anyway?”

Fr. Michel Quoist, the French writer once said, “Someone who loves their neighbors allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.”

We need to understand each other instead of trying to change them to be like us. Really listen to people’s stories. That’s true love.