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RLT’s ‘Native Gardens’ spotlights racial, ideological conflict with laughs

By Bob Conrad

Reno Little Theater’s latest production, “Native Gardens,” shines a light on border conflicts, xenophobia and racial animus, but at the hyper-local level and with plenty of laughs.

Two couples become neighbors when a Latino couple moves in next door to a white conservative couple that has been in the Washington, D.C. upscale urban neighborhood for more than a decade.

Things start off well. That is until a border and ideological dispute erupts. 

Tania and Pablo del Valle (played by Karly Chandler and Anthony Mendoza) discover the property line between their homes is not as Frank and Virginia Butley (played by Bob Gabrielli and Debra Lynn Hull) have assumed for years.

The Butley’s flower beds, rather than abutting the property, actually cross over the del Valle property line.

Things quickly get awkward upon this discovery. The border dispute has both couples hurling allegations of ageism, racism and nationalism at one another. Though topically cringey – but relevant – the script covers the conflict with humor.

The actors deftly navigate the conflict with comedic relief during the 90-minute production. 

The Minnesota Post calls “Native Gardens” the “perfect summer play.” The production highlights how those with positive intentions can create conflict. It also elucidates the way racial relations in the United States are persistent and messy.

  • Tania and Pablo del Valle (played by Karly Chandler and Anthony Mendoza) are newcomers into a Washington, D.C. neighborhood. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, June, 8, 2022.
  • WORLDS APART: Two properties and their owners seek common ground in "Native Gardens." Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, June 8, 2022.
  • Virginia Butley, played by Debra Lynn Hull, doesn't appreciate being called a privileged white woman by a couple of millennials. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, June 8, 2022.
  • Frank Butley, played by Bob Gabrielli, and his flower beds are in the middle of a property boundary dispute in "Native Gardens." Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, Jun 8, 2022.
  • Virginia Butley (Debra Lynn Hull) spars with Tania del Valle (Karly Chandler) over race, ideology and age. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, June 8, 2022.

Director Moira Bengochea said playwright Karen Zacarias notes neighbor conflicts usually fall into three categories: culture, property or taste. 

“She uses a lot of metaphor in this play to illustrate all of these triggers caused by those three things,” she said. “All the ‘isms are included in this play including two very other important elements, I think: humanism and optimism.”

Indeed the play ends on a happy note. Getting to that point seemed rushed, however, as the bulk of the story covers the manifestation of the conflict between the two couples – then, suddenly, all is well.

“It’s very relatable to everybody,” Bengochea added. 

Expect to leave Reno Little Theater laughing and with a smile on your face. I know I did.

The play opens Friday, June 10 and runs through June 25, 2022.

Details

Written by Karen Zacarias

Directed by Moira Bengochea

Actors and crew

  • Karly Chandler as Tania del Valle
  • Anthony Mendoza as Pablo del Valle
  • Debra Lynn Hull as Virginia Butley
  • Bob Gabrielli as Frank Butley
  • Ensemble: Jonathan Gastelo, Rachel Douglass, Uriel Cholula and Abraham Vásquez
  • Director: Moira Bengochea
  • Assistant Director: Ryan Corrigan
  • Stage Manager: Jesse Spooner
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Joan Hong
  • Costume Designer: Jasmine Miller
  • Intimacy Director: Adriano Cabral
  • Assistant Intimacy Director: Thomas Rao
  • Dramaturg: Megan Lee Aguas
  • Scenic and Lighting Design: Chad Sweet
  • Accent & Voice Coach: Rosie Brownlow-Calkin
  • Technical Direction: Oliver Bream

Dates

  • Evening show dates: June 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Matinee show dates: June 12, 19, 26 at 2 p.m.
  • Pay What You Decide Performance: Saturday, June 11

Tickets

  • Regular: $30 per person
  • Senior: $25 per person
  • Student: $15 per person

Website: https://renolittletheater.org/events/event/native-gardens/

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