Charleston Stage performs 'Native Gardens,' a play that follows two couples who have just become neighbors and don't agree on everything, causing tension in the neighborhood | Photo provided

Charleston Stage brings Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens to the Dock Street Theatre through March 26 co-directed by Marybeth Clark and Henry Clay Middleton. Native Gardens is a one-act play dealing with hot-button issues told through the lens of two couples who have just become neighbors. The result is a hilarious but heartwarming experience reminding us of the humanity in others — even if we don’t see eye-to-eye at first.

“[The playwright] gives you an opportunity to see how different people think and act, and then make up your own mind,” Clark said. “We’re going to say the wrong thing. We’re going to go the wrong way, but with a little compassion, we’ll figure it out.”

Characters Pablo and Tania del Valle, a young Latin American couple, move to a new neighborhood and accidentally start a “border war” with their older next-door neighbors, Frank and Virginia Butley, when they become aware of an overlooked detail in their property line and differences in gardening opinions. While Frank is a prize-winning gardener who is mainly concerned with aesthetics, Tania prefers indigenous plants that are more ecologically friendly. Although the issue is initially about the neighbors’ yards, below-the-surface problems begin to bubble up.

Clark said in a time when it’s not uncommon to have relationship-threatening disagreements with our neighbors or even our family members, Native Gardens is a reminder that, at heart, we all want the same thing.

The cast of Native Gardens includes Charleston Stage resident actor Cody Elsensohn as Pablo del Valle, local actor Kayla Green as Tania del Valle and Charleston Stage ensemble members Melonea Marek and Don Brandenburg portraying the Butleys. 

Charleston Stage resident actors Cedar Valdez and Jenna Barricklo will act in the ensemble along with Carlos Grace, a young actor who is a part of the Charleston Stage TheatreWings High School Apprentice Program.

“This is what I want to do,” Elsensohn said. “I like to bring relevant, newer work to light and be a part of that.” Elsensohn, who is in his second year as a Charleston Stage  resident actor, said he’s excited to play a Latino character for the first time, as he is half Cuban on his mother’s side.

“Theater doesn’t exist in Cuba like it does here. It’s nice to represent a Latino story on stage and honor my heritage, almost like saying thank you to my family for moving us here,” Elsensohn said. 

“I’ve always looked to the men in my family for character reference just because they’re the closest men to me. There’s a lot of my abuelo on stage.”

The idea of representation is important to the organization and Clark, who will take over as artistic director in May when Charleston Stage’s founding director Julian Wiles retires after 45 years.

Clark said Charleston Stage is constantly looking for scripts that are representative of other voices. “It’s important to represent the voices of many communities,” she said.

Native Gardens is relatively new to the stage with its first-ever run in 2019. As a result, it can be challenging to get audiences excited about a novel production. 

“People don’t go to what they don’t know,” Clark said. “That’s not [just] a Charleston thing. That’s nationwide.

“It’s important to have [this show] in the season. With such a timely storyline that makes a point to flesh out relatable hot topics, Native Gardens is sure to be thrilling to see.”

Native Gardens plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. To purchase tickets, visit

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