The cast of Dallas Theater Center’s ‘Native Gardens.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

Stage Notes is a weekly aggregate post about theater, classical music and stage news, events, reviews and other pertinent information.

Review: DTC’s Native Gardens is worth the tendering

Dallas Theater Center’s production of Karen Zacarias’ comedy satire Native Gardens closes this weekend at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. But with its clever writing and strong cast, the show is a must-see before it is gone. Zacarias’ play touches on sensitive dialogues about race and prejudices but delivers the goods through wit and comedy in sitcom style fashion.

The first impression of Native Gardens was its gorgeous set that filled the Kalita stage. The stage was meticulously designed by Sara Ryung Clement depicting the backyards of two DC homes. There was no chintziness on the view either as both sides even offered some interiors of the house as well. The gardens and greenery looked lush on Virginia and Frank’s lawn with an envy-inducing patio. But even Tania and Pablo’s side, albeit a fixer-upper backyard, had wonderfully specific detail anchored by the large and looming oak tree.

The show centered on a pregnant Tania (Tiffany Solano) and Pablo (Christopher Ramirez) moving into their new home next to the more-mature couple Virginia (Sally Nystuen Vahle) and Bob (Frank Hess). Tania is working on her PhD while Pablo, from a wealthy Chilean family, establishes himself at his new law firm. Virginia is an engineer and Bob’s gardening enthusiasm has his eyes on the neighborhood prize for best garden taking the title away from a longtime rival.

In an effort to please his new coworkers, Pablo invites his firm to a backyard party where the couple decides a new fence can be put up in time. Only thing is, through a mixup, their property line has been mistakenly marked and actually extends into the neighbors’ yard where Bob’s garden is in full bloom for that weekend’s garden judging. What began as a neighborly issue turns into a debacle that was both poignant and hilarious.

Director Sylvia Cervantes Blush had talked about giving the show a distinct sitcom feel and with that, the cast demonstratively delivered on their performances both through dialogue and physicality. Ramirez’s assiduous Pablo had all the trappings of a man trying to do right by everyone but getting caught in the middle. His character was written with a refreshing lack of any machismo but just hints of it where Ramirez succeeded in playing it with funny exuberance particularly when Solano’s Tania just isn’t having it. The two played their roles as equals but Solano added those touches that her character may have the final say. Yet they both played their characters with a charming naivete when it came to dealing with neighbors and diplomatic chatter, but also a fiery intensity when the ish starts to hit their liberal fan.

Vahle’s and Hess’ performances were also a joy to watch. As the seasoned and conservative neighbors, they immediately give off cool parent vibes to the young couple, but when their longtime ways and standards are challenged, they squared up.  Vahle ran the gamut from sweet to vengeful with a dash of perfectly-placed psychosis. Dare I say Hess’ performance was adorable? As Bob, his comedic physicality was bar-raising and endearing. The way he commanded his character was truly a revelation.

As they all bicker over the property line and the ethics of native plants over invasive ones, bigger topics were alluded to such as colonization, immigration and yes, racism. Zacarias’ play balanced these heavy topics so smartly. There are no villains or heroes here — just four people from different backgrounds trying to figure out their compatibility, but in doing so, the conflict jostles them enough to start setting up their battlestations. Only when a common human experience binds them all do we see Native Gardens‘ intention.

The show closes Sunday.

Review: KDT shows where the scary things are in Man Cave

The cast of Kitchen Dog Theatre’s ‘Man Cave.’ (Courtesy photo by Jordan Fraker)

Let’s just start with the fact that Man Cave is spooky AF. Queer playwright John J. Caswell Jr.’s play focuses on four Latinas who find themselves in the reclusive basement space of a Republican congressman and turn it into their own space that flirts with the supernatural. Special effects and simple noise-making made this show a creepy thriller alongside an intensely strong cast of women who all function as the heart of the show.

Director Christie Vela fashioned a tight show that also breathed on its opening night last Friday the Trinity River Arts Center. No moment was wasted in this show for the eyes and ears. Mixed with Jeffrey Schmidt’s incredible set, Aaron Johansen’s dramatic lighting and sound designer Brian McDonald’s effective work plus Isa Flores’ costume and makeup effect and Zareen Afzaal’s prop design, the show was shooting on all its cylinders and with perfect aim. The technicality of this show was so sharp that the design really was its own character.

This may have made the actors’ work a bit easier, but it certainly didn’t take away from incredible performances by Fatima Y. Flores (Rosemary), Gloria Vivica Benavides (Lupita), Gigi Cervantes (Imaculada) and Sheila D. Rose (Consuelo).

Each actor’s performance was nuanced with the character’s different personalities but the chemistry among them all felt authentic as if they really had all been friends for years. Flores’ rage in the beginning was perhaps a bit extensive because it kicked off the show on a level 10. Her character certainly has anger and as the story unfolded, Flores would gradually let her character’s anger simmer and explode when needed. As her girlfriend, Benavides was the ideal opposite. A bit lackadaisical, her Lupita probably had the best comedic moments with her drunken outbursts. When the supernatural drama increases, Benavides’ fraidy-cat performance was certainly an effective and unexpected choice.

RELATED: Lesbian Latina actor sees herself on stage in new thriller

Certainly an ensemble cast, Cervantes’ character Imaculada is perhaps the most central character. Cervantes plays the congressman’s housekeeper who is cleaning the space and taking care of the dog when Rosemary and Lupita enter. She’s also connected to the house more which taunts the four women. Cervantes played her character with a defining qualm that really evoked a certain sympathy toward her. Consuelo is primarily a second act character but Rose maximized her character’s role as Rosemary’s mother. She began as a certain comic relief but once on track with the rest, she became that final puzzle piece before the ladies go into a spiritual war.

Caswell’s story was taut and Vela and the cast really played up that tension of fear. That bled into the audience who were often jolted by sudden bangs or quietly gasped at heightened moments in the show — particularly the transfer of spirits from one host to another.

Underlying the drama was this feminine strength and sisterhood each character and actor displayed. The characters stood side by side from their arguments to their final act. The actors equally fed off each other and generously gave each other space. The use of Spanish toward the end (with subtitles) was its own special effect. In a way, these women who spoke English in America found an inner resolve to return to their original language. Caswell’s depiction of these female-presenting characters was incredibly insightful and  introduced audiences to new Latina archetypes.

Man Cave runs through March 5.

Opening this week:

Dallas Symphony Orchestra: Alsop Conducts Scheherazade, today-Saturday.

Ida y Vuelta Flamenco: Primero de Febrero! Flamenco dance and music from Spain, Friday and Saturday at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Shen Yun, Friday-Sunday at the Winspear.

Texas Ballet Theatre: Modern Masterpieces, Friday-Sunday at the Wyly

Lakeside Community Theatre: Misery, Friday-March 11

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra: A Gala Evening with Yo-Yo Ma, 7 p.m. Saturday at Bass Hall.

Pocket Sandwich Theatre: Murder at the Howard Johnson’s, Friday-March 25.

Sammons Jazz: Caleb Sean and Simone, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sammons Center.

ATTPAC Broadway at the Center: On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, March 2-4 at the Winspear

Uptown Players: Silver Foxes, March 2-12 at Theatre Three.

Onstage now:

Art Centre Theatre: ‘Til Death Do Us Part, through Saturday.

Ochre Theatre: JC, Amaté,through Saturday.

Art Centre Theatre: The Vagina Monologues, through Sunday.

Bishop Arts Theatre Center: 1619 Project One-Act Festival, through Sunday.

The Core Theatre: Every Livin’ Soul, through Sunday.

Dallas Theater Center: Native Gardens, through Sunday at the Kalita Humphreys.

Grand Prairie Arts Council: Beehive the ‘60s Musical, through Sunday.

Greater Lewisville Community Theatre: The Cake, through Sunday.

Jubilee Theatre: Moon Man Walk, through Sunday.

MBS Productions: Confessions of the Slave Nat Turner, through Sunday at the Addison Theater Center.

Mesquite Arts Center: Plaza Suite, through Sunday.

Richardson Theater Center: The Odd Couple, through Sunday.

Theatre Denton: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, through Sunday.

Upright Theatre: The Wedding Singer, through Sunday.

Artisan Center Theatre: Freaky Friday, through March 1.

Stolen Shakespeare Guild: The Winter’s Tale, through March 4 at Arts Fort Worth.

Amphibian Stage: Spaceman, through March 5.

Kitchen Dog Theater: Man Cave, through March 5 at Trinity River Arts Center.

Stage West: The Play that Goes Wrong, through March 5.

Stolen Shakespeare Guild: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through March 5 at Arts Fort Worth.

Theatre Arlington: Gypsy, through March 5.

Theatre Coppell: The Odd Couple, through March 5

Theatre Frisco: Side by Side by Sondheim, through March 5.

Cara Mia Theatre: To DIE:GO in Leaves, by Frida Kahlo, through March 12 at the Latino Cultural Center

–Rich Lopez