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Center Stage

‘Native Gardens’ is sure to grow on audiences


Cate Miller, Greg Blumhagen, Gabriela Fuentes and Javier Anselmo in Des Moines Playhouse’s “Native Gardens.”  Photo credit: Isenberger Photography

The Des Moines Community Playhouse has leveraged more than a century of community development and partnership into diverse programing that reaches across the entire range of live theatre tastes. Being a cultural adventurer is easy for the Playhouse’s patrons, as season ticket holders can attest. Their next show, “Native Gardens,” is a thought-provoking, societal exploration that will undoubtedly keep attendees discussing it well past the final curtain.

“Native Gardens” carries its audiences along a cultural journey that crosses many boundaries. This show is being co-directed by Lorenzo Sandoval and Katy Merriman, a bold choice that further enhances the themes its story holds. Merriman is the Playhouse artistic director, Sandoval an experienced bilingual playwright, performer and director. They form a promising and dynamic duo to share this story about walls. Floral, physical, metaphorical, mental, cultural. 

Karen Zacarías’ award-winning plays include the sold-out/extended comedy “The Book Club Play,” the sold-out world premiere drama “Just Like Us” (adapted from the book by Helen Thorpe) at Denver Theater Center, and the Steinberg-citation award play “Legacy of Light.” “Native Gardens” has been described as a hilarious hot button comedy, “A ‘Woke’ DICK VAN DYKE SHOW for the Stage; “‘I LOVE LUCY’ with substance…and hope for today.”

The synopsis of Zacarías’ bare boards gem reads, “You can’t choose your neighbors. In this brilliant new comedy, cultures and gardens clash, turning well-intentioned neighbors into feuding enemies. Pablo, a rising attorney, and doctoral candidate Tania, his very pregnant wife, have just purchased a home next to Frank and Virginia, a well-established D.C. couple with a prize-worthy English garden. But an impending barbeque for Pablo’s colleagues and a delicate disagreement over a long-standing fence line soon spirals into an all-out border dispute, exposing both couples’ notions of race, taste, class and privilege.”

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The brilliance of this script is how it leverages humor, one of humankind’s greatest gifts for civil discourse and finding common ground, to open minds about real issues in today’s world. 

Merriman offers, “There are fantastic moments where a few lines really hit home and get to the heart of an issue like what it is like growing up American but not looking ‘American.’ Then the next moment something utterly funny and real happens, and it brings us all back to the fact that we are fallible, clumsy, passionate humans.

“One reason we chose this play was because it is not written or presented to preach to the audience…There are relatable moments with EVERY character, and not just whoever a given audience member most looks like.”

Tallgrass presents summer musical at WDM Jamie Hurd Amphitheatre

“Pippin” exploded onto the Broadway scene in 1972, winning five Tony Awards from its 11 nominations. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson, and libretto contributions from its original director, Bob Fosse, gave this show a magical irresistibility. Tallgrass Theatre Company reignites that magic in the bucolic confines of this outdoor venue June 17-19, with a stellar cast and the opportunity to again return a score filled with memorable hits such as “Magic to Do,” “Corner of the Sky,” “Spread a Little Sunshine” and “Morning Glow.”

DMMO begins another stellar season

There will be no letdown following an explosive 50th anniversary season last summer. The final day of June launches the highly acclaimed Des Moines Metro Opera as they open with “Carmen,” the first of a dynamic repertory season. The rest of the season includes Bartók’s gripping psychological thriller, “Bluebeard’s Castle,” and Prokofiev’s absurdist comedy, “The Love for Three Oranges,” as well as productions of Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel’s “dwb (driving while black)” and Zach Redler and Jerre Dye’s “The Falling and the Rising” as part of the company’s 2nd Stages Series. The eclectic blend of operas, now a signature of this, one of America’s most successful opera companies, gives patrons an expansive immersion into the variety that opera offers. 

Des Moines Performing Arts hosts two national tours in June

“Dear Evan Hansen” and “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” will grace Iowa’s premier performing hall this month. The first is making a return engagement for this coming-of-age musical, a response to its popular initial appearance leaving audiences, especially younger patrons, hungering for more. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards and the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography, “Ain’t Too Proud” tells the thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal, as the group’s personal and political conflicts threatened to tear them apart during a decade of civil unrest in America. ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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