NIMBY played for laughs: Off-Central’s ‘Native Gardens’
Dying, goes the old theater adage, is easy. Comedy is hard.
This line, generally attributed to English actor Edmund Gwenn (on his deathbed, no less), has special resonance for bay area thespian Roxanne Fay. She’s a cyclonic force in dramas – most recently, she played Queen Gertrude in Jobsite’s Hamlet – but in her latest role, as a homeowner involved in a territorial dispute over a backyard garden, Fay is all about the laughs.
The comedy is Native Gardens, opening Thursday at the Off-Central in St. Petersburg. Karen Zacarias’ play is directed by Jack Holloway.
Fay and Off-Center artistic director Ward Smith appear as suburbanites Virginia and Frank Butley, whose carefully-tended garden is their pride and joy. When their newly-arrived neighbors, Pablo and Tania Del Valle, announce their intention to tear out a buffering fence and create an all-natural garden, the conflict begins. And horticultural hilarity ensues.
It’s NIMBY played for maximum yuks: Not in my back yard.
Balancing dramas and comedies, Fay believes, keeps an actor “balanced.” But finding just the right platform, she continues, isn’t always a piece of cake: “I think if you ask any artistic director, when they’re looking for a comedy, it’s hard to find something where you go ‘Now that’s funny.’ So often you read these things that are supposed to be comedies and you’re like ‘Ehhh, OK. Doesn’t quite land with me.’”
Native Gardens “was just such a beautiful little setup. It’s like a Dick Van Dyke Show on steroids.”
Tania and Pablo, played respectively by Jade Ashlee Rivera and Rey Garcia, are young professionals, of Latin descent and purely “woke,” while Virginia and Frank are older, white Republicans replete with old-school ideals.
As the tension between the two couples mounts, the expected barbs about racism, ageism and other “isms” come out. Mostly, however, the arguments – and the (strained) polite discussions – are about the abutting gardens.
“There are things in these characters that we discovered,” Fay reports, “and we added flavors to who they were.”
The laughs having been planted, everyone’s having a grand time bringing Native Gardens to life.
“Ward Smith and Jack Holloway are two of the funniest people I know,” Fay says. “I’d never worked with either Jade or Rey before – they’re really good kids, really a lot of fun to work with. They work really hard and they brought a depth to their characters.
“That’s what nice about these characters, the way Jack has directed it. None of them are sitcom-shallow, as you might think. Everything is so important to them. Everything is life and death in a comedy.”
Wherever he is, Edmund Gwenn probably agrees.
Find showtimes and tickets here.