Article & photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media (see photo gallery & video below)
Mexico native Karen Zacarias continues to impress theater goers across the country. Her most recent production of Native Gardens now playing the Space Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is no exception. The hilarious play about neighbors who seemingly start out on friendly terms only to find themselves divided by property lines, race and ageism. Much like the U.S. and Mexico who were once good neighbors and now find themselves divided by border wall, immigration and race issues only they are not so funny.
Zacarias told the crowd that the idea for Native Gardens bloomed at a dinner party where guests were talking about their worst neighbor stories. “As I started to think about that I came up with the metaphor of plants and fence for our country.” Zacarias started writing the play before Donald Trump was a serious candidate for President but with the election of Trump the plays relevance has only been amplified.
The play originally had a much darker ending but in reconsidering her work Zacarias said, “We have enough bad things. What would it take to have a happy ending. Is a happy ending so unreasonable? What would it take, a little bit of compromise a little bit of listening. So I started to write the play from that point of view because art needs to help heal. It needs to put a shining light on the ugliness but it also to help us find the way to the beauty. Writing this play is my way to cope with everything that is going on.” she said.
Native Gardens continues the playwrights string of theatrical hits that have come through Denver over the last few years which have included the ‘Mariela In The Desert’ a story was based on the life of Mariela’s grandparents and the world premiere of ‘Just Like Us”. The true story, adapted from Denver journalist Helen Thorpes book, of four Denver Latinas “dreamers” in high school whose destinies are determined by their citizenship status. The play has received more that a hundred readings in the last four months at schools, universities and theaters across the country. “People want to bring up the discussion and pertinence of defending our dreamers,” she said.
Karen Zacarias is now the most produced latinx playwright in America and last month launched “Destiny of Desire” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It is homage to telenovelas in a muscial format. She along with the plays director Lisa Portes were among a group of eight women, known at the DC-8, who started a national movement called the Latinx Theate Commons in 2012 to amplify the visibility of Latinx theater in the United States.
“I am very interested in getting to tell the stories we don’t usually get to hear on stage and reminding everybody of the uniqueness and universality of all our stories which is what drives all of my work,” she stated emphatically and passionately.
Native Gardens plays the Space Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through May 6th.
For tickets and showtimes visit: DenverCenter.org
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media