NATIVE GARDENS – Topical, Funny, Spectacularly Good Time

Theatre review

PHOTO: Jenny Graham | | (L-R) Christian Barillas, Jessica Meraz, Frances Fisher and Bruce Davison in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse

Native Gardens, the witty, new play by Karen Zacarias is currently blooming into a bona fide hit at the Pasadena Playhouse. Directed with a keen sense of comedy and rhythm by Jason Alexander, the play digs into everything from acclimation to migration, ageism, classism and sexism in a most hilarious and entertaining way. It never preaches or hits you over the head; just delivers laugh after uproarious laugh, so much so that you miss the next line while laughing at the last.

Pablo and Tania, a young, yuppie, Latinx couple move in to a fixer upper in a tony Washington DC neighborhood and meet their neighbors, Frank and Virginia, an older, white couple whose yard connects with theirs by flowerbeds and an ugly chain link fence. The usual niceties quickly give way to misgivings and doubt when plans get underway to replace the fence. The next 90 minutes fly by while the couples mine the very rich soil of the Robert Frost line, “good fences make good neighbors” as tensions explode into a veritable border dispute with talks of walls and rights, culture clashes and character assassinations.

PHOTO: Jenny Graham | | Frances Fisher as Virginia and Bruce Davison as Frank in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse.

Frances Fisher brings her extraordinary talents to Virginia, a formidable woman who worked her way to the top of her field and makes no apologies for her privilege. The moment Fisher speaks you know she has come to play; and play she does, to the hilt! She’s funny, eliciting some of the biggest laughs, and pitch perfect in her haughtiness, her indignation and her vulnerability. A simply brilliant performance. Going toe to toe with her is Bruce Davison in a delightful portrayal of Frank, full of bluster and fury one moment and a puddle of emotion the next. These two fine actors are just so solid it’s an absolute joy to watch them together.

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PHOTO: Jenny Graham | | (L-R): Bruce Davison, Frances Fisher, Jessica Meraz, and Christian Barillas in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse.

A positively winsome Jessica Meraz plays Tania and manages to imbue her with copious amounts of charm that keeps you rooting for her even at her most know it all, millennial moments. Christian Barillas plays earnest, lawyer husband, Pablo, with the fiery passion of an outsider who has everything to prove.

Without giving anything away, I will simply say that Julian Armaya, Bradley Roa II, and Richard Biglia provide really fun moments for the audience, breaking rhythms and the fourth wall with style and a whole lot of charisma.

PHOTO: Jenny Graham | | (L-R) Richard Biglia, Julian Armaya, and Bradley Roa II as the Gardeners in Native Gardens at Pasadena Playhouse.

Alexander creates a brisk pace and has all four leads operating on all cylinders in rapid fire dialogue that swings wildly from crafty manipulations to all out screaming war. And yet for all the outrage and recognition the play invokes, it also germinates seeds of understanding and compassion. An afternoon in a garden well spent!

Native Gardens continues at The Pasadena Playhouse through September 30, 2018.

Tickets start at $25 and are available at, by phone at 626-356-7529, and at the box office at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.