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Ajani Jones

A must-see grows in ‘Native Gardens (Jardín salvaje)’ at GALA

By Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Theater Arts here.

The late Audrey Hepburn’s assertion that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” perfectly captures the core thesis of resistance and change explored in GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Jardín salvaje.

Jardín salvaje is a Spanish translation by Gustavo Ott of playwright Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, her self-proclaimed “love letter to the DMV.” Like its English counterpart, Jardín salvaje explores the relationships between new and old DMV residents in the interactions between two neighboring families — the Del Valles and the Blochs. As the play progresses, the families navigate their unique dynamics and needs across a shared property line all while fluidly exploring the budding tension between tradition and modernity.

Víctor Salinas (Pablo), Alina Collins Maldonado (Tania), Luz Nicolás (Virginia), and Juan Luis Acevedo (Fabio) in ‘Jardín salvaje (Native Gardens).’Photo by Stan Weinstein.

As Pablo (Víctor Salinas) and Tania (Alina Collins Maldonado) del Valle come to terms with their future while settling into their new DC home, the two learn to navigate life through the metaphor of gardening — a journey they must share with their new neighbors Fabio (Juan Luis Acevedo) and Virginia (Luz Nicolás) Bloch.

Under the expert direction of Rebecca Aparicio, the play takes on compelling depth. Each scene, whether humorous, heartfelt, or even notably tense, feels empowered and intentional down to the finest details. Aparicio’s careful direction is evident in minor narrative details, like the shifted national origins of the Bloch family, that foster a compelling story arc for the two families and emphasize the play’s themes of tradition and change.

Under the guidance of this striking directorial foundation, the cast of Jardín salvaje delivers charming and powerful performances both as an ensemble and individually. The two couples balance each other out excellently. The cast’s charisma and shared chemistry are palpable in every scene.

The interactions between Virginia and Tania are especially powerful as the two women portray a genuine sense of empathy that, in spite of the rising tensions between them and their many differences, perfectly encapsulates the sincerity that punctuates the play’s final moments.

Maldonado’s passionate defense of her husband and her home is especially remarkable: as she stands her ground against Nicolás’ equally impassioned and powerful performance, her performance carries a power that leaves the audience in awe.

Juan Luis Acevedo (Fabio), Víctor Salinas (Pablo), Alina Collins Maldonado (Tania), and Luz Nicolás (Virginia) in ‘Jardín salvaje (Native Gardens).’ Photo by Stan Weinstein.

Jardín salvaje is also genuinely hilarious. The play smoothly integrates humor — from subtle yet poignant remarks to the more blatant yet amusing antics of the construction workers working to renovate the fence marking the property line between the two homes.

GALA’s production of Jardín salvaje elevates the viewing experience by leaning into the inherent musicality and visual appeal of Zacarías’ play. Jardín salvaje is by its nature a sensory experience. In spite of its simple setting, the show is known to maximize the limitations of its set to create a truly breathtaking theater experience. This production is no different. The stunning scenic design by Griselle González and costumes by Jeannette Christensen speak volumes as they complement the characters and their performances.

The integration of musical elements and expert use of lighting also enhance the narrative in subtle yet powerful ways. The sound design by Justin Schmitz and lighting design by Alberto Segarra are outstanding.

This production captures all the heart and narrative soul of Zacarias’ work and dials it up to an eleven through its incredible cast and phenomenal technical elements. In all, GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Jardín salvaje is a must-see.

Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show dazzles at Arena Stage

By Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Theater Metro Arts on 12/16/22 here.

Amidst these times of holiday cheer and yuletide merriments, Step Afrika! throws its hat into the ring of festivities with an hour and a half of unabashed excitement and step-themed entertainment.

Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show is indeed magical. In roughly an hour and a half of unapologetic fun and joy, the Step Afrika! team rings in the holidays by seamlessly combining beloved classics and modern hits, all the while dazzling the audience with the nonstop energy one would expect from a step show.

Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Show is divided into several performances and fun segments that all leave the audience awed. The show is led by a dynamic duo, the splendid host Ariel Dykes and the energetic DJ Nutcracker (Jeeda Barrington). The pair do a phenomenal job of engaging the audience and maintaining energy as the show transitions between a slew of dazzling performances. From a fantastic drum and dance spectacle to a later step-off between factions of the Step Afrika! ensemble, the dancers’ energy never wanes as they take the stage with unwavering charisma and give their all in stellar displays of talent and powerful and graceful moves.

From start to finish the show keeps its audience engaged. There is never a dry moment, especially as many of the show’s segments allow for plenty of audience participation through cheers, calls and responses, and even an all-out interactive dance lesson courtesy of Ariel and DJ Nutcracker. On another occasion, DJ Nutcracker invites the audience to the dance floor to fully embrace the spirit of the show and dance. And dance they did. Audience members flocked to the beautifully decorated stage to demonstrate their dance moves. Moments like these interspersed throughout the already fantastic choreographed performances cemented this show as a fun time for all ages.

Beyond its high energy, the show is steeped in unrestricted creativity, from fantastic costumes to thrilling musical accompaniment. As the raw rhythmic flair of several of the unaccompanied step performances captivates the audience, modern beats tie into familiar holiday classics helping to really elevate the show while keeping the audience grooving alongside the dancers.

The show also excels in its less active but equally phenomenal technical elements. The intricate detail put into designing the show is honestly breathtaking. From a stage made to look like an ice-skating rink to minute details like light snow falling in intervals throughout the show, the scenic design helps enhance the already amazing energy of Step Afrika!’s performances and deliver on the holiday magic advertised for the show.

The lighting and sound elements, designed by Marianne Meadows and Misha Michel respectively, are also incredible. The show is brilliant and colorful, but never overwhelming in its displays of dazzling lights that add an extra layer of magic to each new segment. The sound design is also clear and bright, perfectly punctuating moments of high energy with brilliant beats and tunes that never overwhelm performances or drown out the performers.

Ultimately, the show was nothing short of incredible. With its high-energy cheer and magnificent displays of stepping, Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show is a holiday season must-see.

Kid-friendly ‘Rapunzarella White’ at Best Medicine Rep is a fairytale mashup

by Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts on 11/29/22 here.

With their simple premises — a beautiful princess rescued from her wretched fate by a chivalrous prince — and often compelling narratives, fairytales have cemented themselves as a beloved staple in pop culture. And over time, many artists have challenged themselves to flip this formula on its head and defy expectations, often with amusing and charming results.

Rapunzarella White takes this challenge head-on in a uniquely charming fairytale adventure. The family musical by June Rachelson-Ospa and Daniel Neiden follows three classic fairytale princesses: Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Snow White. The three, now sisters, have been separated from one another and condemned to ill-conceived fates brought on by a curse at the hands of a wicked witch. Hijinks ensue in this fun family adventure progresses as the princesses await their fated princes to break their wretched curse.

Despite its unique premise, Rapunzarella White falls flat with its narrative. The musical’s story leans heavily into its fairytale roots and plays on every trope imaginable: wicked witches, curses, and the fan-favorite true love’s kiss. But rather than taking a unique approach to each of the above-mentioned fairytales, Rapunzarella White relies heavily on the cultural significance of these tales and never feels like it gets to tell a story of its own. The musical takes no real narrative risks and as a result feels like a disappointingly haphazard story born of an infinitely more compelling premise.

Make no mistake, the cast in the production at Best Medicine Rep is phenomenal. Under the fantastic direction of Jacqueline Youm, each cast member does an amazing job of bringing their respective roles to life, a respectable feat especially as most of the cast had to take on dual roles. Nathan Peterson’s Syd the Fairy Godbrother, Rebecca Heron’s Witch, and Carolina Tomasi’s Burly Bob were especially noteworthy as these characters felt the most unique and genuinely interesting throughout the performance.

In spite of the entertaining cast, though, there was simply not much to work with for the audience to resonate with. The one-note characters left much to be desired in terms of motivation, leaving adults in the audience struggling to connect with them.

The humor of the show similarly struggles. Throughout, the jokes are far from explicitly bad but rather consistently boring. There were a few chuckle-worthy moments, but as a whole, the show made no real effort to play around with its premise and expand on the humor that could have been born from this.

Where the show really shines is its musical elements. The roughly hour-long show is almost entirely composed of songs, and each is more charming and sonically pleasing than the last. Where the narrative and humor lack, the show more than makes up for it in music. The sisters’ rendition of “Woe Is Me” is incredibly touching and helps to truly contextualize their shared yearning to be rescued by a prince. “Razzle Dazzle ‘Em” and its reprise are upbeat and fun, leaving the audience genuinely entertained as Syd prepares Cinderella (Jessica Long) for the ball. Each member of the cast is also musically gifted, which shines through most in ensemble numbers like the final “Love Is All,” where their voices blend beautifully. Alongside the cast’s excellent musical delivery, the instrumental accompaniment, directed and arranged by Angela Small and Charles Czarnecki respectively, were phenomenal.

The overall technical aspects of this production of Rapunzarella White were also wholly entertaining. The brilliant lighting and sound design by John Morogiello elevated what was otherwise a simplistic set to something truly whimsical and straight out of a fairytale. These technical elements breathed a welcome breath of fresh air into the production.

In hindsight, Rapunzarella White struggled due to the limitations of family theater. It was clear throughout that many of the authors’ choices in the material, from its safe narrative to its simplistic characters, were only made to appeal to the younger end of the “all ages” spectrum. While this is understandable, the musical’s compelling premise and phenomenal cast could have thrived in a less restricted format.

Ultimately, Rapunzarella White does what it’s supposed to. Despite its flaws, the musical is still enjoyable in a general sense and able to fulfill its primary goal: to tell a story fit for the family, clichés and all. Although the show does nothing particularly interesting with its narrative or characters, it also doesn’t do anything so overtly poorly that it would dissuade all audiences from giving it a chance.

Heartfelt hilarity among two castaway couples in Andy Weld’s ‘Stranded’

By Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Theater Arts on November 17, 2022 here.

What would you do if you were stranded on a deserted island?

At some point, many have been asked this strange yet common ice-breaker at one social gathering or another. Despite the seeming randomness of the question, the scenario itself is just enough within the realm of possibility to yield genuinely thoughtful, more often than not satirical, responses.

This uncanny hypothetical has somehow crept its way into all facets of pop culture, from books to movies and even theater. In his own unique attempt to capture the unique blend of satire and insight that this odd question breeds, Writer/Director Andy Weld has repurposed the time-honored desert island scenario into the wonderfully hilarious but equally insightful Stranded.

Stranded follows two couples cast away on an uninhabited island following a freak plane accident. After four months of surviving together, the two couples, while navigating the immense stress that comes with such a life-changing accident, have fallen into a strangely comfortable rhythm. However, this new routine is put to the test as the couples continue to learn about one another and face new challenges in their relationships that threaten to exacerbate the stress they are already facing.

The play opens as Serena (Isabelle Solomon) makes yet another, ultimately fruitless, attempt to leave a message for passing planes to come to their rescue while her partner, Jack (Drew Larsen), watches amusedly. As the play progresses, the other couple, Harry (Griffin Duy) and Emma (Sabrina Shahmir), join the pair, and the two couples continue to navigate their strange new dynamic together. It’s later revealed that Harry and Emma have an open marriage, and the fallout of this revelation is felt throughout the rest of the show.

From the play’s opening minutes, it’s clear that these two couples have genuine chemistry. Within each pairing, the actors convincingly portray the tender love and care that exists for them: as Harry gently reassures Emma after she kisses Serena, the audience is easily roped into the sincere love and appreciation the pair has for one another. Furthermore, although each couple is unique in their individual dynamics, their interactions are equally endearing to the audience. While Jack and Serena seem to be the strait-laced couple that eventually learns to explore past their mutual comfort zones, as opposed to Harry and Emma’s innate spontaneity, both pairs seem to deeply care for each other, which helps the audience invest in their journey.

Even on their own, the cast of Stranded is wonderfully charming. Each of the four castaways has a moment in the spotlight where their unique personality is on full display: from Jack’s dry delivery to Harry’s outrageous humor, each member of the cast brings something different that is undeniably compelling and perfectly complements the others, resulting in an incredibly cohesive and fun-to-watch show.

Although marketed as a comedy, Stranded is a surprisingly multifaceted and sincere experience. Weld’s comedic prowess is undeniable as there are countless hilarious moments throughout the show that had the audience genuinely amused. But as the play delved into its themes of polyamory, sexuality, mental health, and trauma, Stranded tactfully explored what it means to love beyond the typical heteronormative experience, and in doing this, adopted a tone of genuine sincerity that elevated the show from just another comedy to a genuinely heartfelt experience.

The technical aspects of Stranded are also rather delightful and work well within the context of the play. In spite of the small stage, the set design by Sara Hussey feels as large as the characters’ dilemma: the scene is set with scraps and driftwood that really sell the deserted island locale. The play also makes creative use of lighting and props to further enhance the audience’s experience. The lighting direction by Jaimie Swann is absolutely stunning and, when paired with the charming fireplace that features as a central gathering point for the couples during night scenes, really helps immerse the audience.

As a whole, Stranded is a delightful experience. In spite of its (unfortunately) short run, its charming wit, charismatic characters, compelling story, and tactful treatment of its themes all work together to cement a wholly positive audience experience.

Now boarding at gate 1619, a hilarious ‘Ain’t No Mo’’ from Woolly Mammoth

By Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts on 9/21/22 here.

It is no easy task to strike the perfect balance between sincerity and hilarity. The typical production tends to choose one over the other, as more often than not, these two tones are at war, resulting in a messy tonal disaster. However, as the steady click of heels drew all eyes forward when Peaches (Jon Hudson Odom) took the Woolly Mammoth stage, all expectations for the “typical” performance were quickly abandoned.

With a series of witty remarks delivered by a stunningly clad air hostess, Ain’t No Mo’ began boldly, a momentum that would hold strong for the remainder of the night’s performance.

Ain’t No Mo’ is at its core a satire built upon the Black American experience. The play by Jordan E. Cooper, which primarily takes place in a nebulous “any day now,” is broken into several scenes, all tying back to the imagined mass exodus of African Americans from the United States on African American Airlines’ final departure to Africa, Flight 1619. Following the monumental election of former President Barack Obama and the hilarious yet reverent funeral of Mr. Right to Complain, the show continues as it simultaneously depicts Peaches’ readying for the flight between scenes of various passengers’ reactions and preparations.

As directed by Lili-Anne Brown, the cast, despite being small in number, awes the audience through their collective larger-than-life stage presence. Each one delivered a compelling and thrilling performance. As the sole connecting thread throughout the play, Odom’s portrayal of Peaches was stellar. As the sole performer on stage during his scenes, Odom commanded the audience’s attention through his infectious energy and unwavering charm. His performance wowed the audience into throes of joyful laughter and reflective sorrow resulting from his equally captivating and complex emotional range.

The remaining five other actors in Ain’t No Mo’ played a colorful cast of passengers as they processed the news of the departing flight. Each scene, while entirely different, felt equally captivating due to the cast’s phenomenal performances. It would be easy to imagine that the cast was far larger than a meager six. The fact that the many different characters remained distinct yet equally compelling was a testament to the actors’ incredible abilities to devote themselves to the individual stories they were conveying.

Although operating across a wide tonal and thematic range, Ain’t No Mo’ never once falters in its presentation, but rather allows its drastically different tones to complement one another. The show is undeniably hilarious, each well-timed joke drawing resounding laughter from its audience. Even though much of the show’s humor could not fully resonate with the non-Black members of its audience, the show managed to keep its audience laughing, an indication of its excellent comedic timing and genuine hilarity.

While Ain’t No Mo’ is a satire at its core, the show also does not shy away from more serious subject matter but rather fully embraces it. There are several more somber and heartwrenching scenes laced throughout the play that leave its audience appropriately reflective on the severity of the situations faced by the characters. These scenes do not detract from the humor, nor does the humor detract from them. Rather, the show’s duality helps to highlight the severe reality faced by Black Americans across the United States. Amid its grandiosity and camp aesthetics, the show gives an incredible amount of care to the stories and messages it delivers, using humor effectively to shed a light on reality.

The more technical aspects of Ain’t No Mo’ are also impressive. The show makes excellent use of the space. While the set remains mostly the same throughout, the changes that are made (as small as they may be) were deliberate and methodical, completely transforming the stage and ensuring that no two scenes felt physically the same. In addition to the expert use of space, the play’s seamless sound design and creative use of lighting perfectly emphasized the mood for each scene, even further enhancing the already incredible performances of the show’s stellar cast. The strategic use of popular and foundational music by Black artists also helped create smooth transitions as well as creatively tie scenes together through their poignant and thematically appropriate lyrics.

To its credit, Ain’t No Mo’ is a show deeply rooted in its Blackness. Interwoven within its expert implementation of Black pop culture, the play gives a meaningful glance into the many wonderfully diverse facets of Blackness and the Black experience through its distinct framing of scenes and characters. These characters, united by their desire to find a seat on Flight 1619, are all so incredibly different because, as the physical manifestation of one family’s repressed Blackness profoundly proclaims, Blackness is no singular experience. Blackness is wonderfully complex and different for each person. The play is able to effectively emphasize this beautiful message through its distinct portrayals of different Black experiences.

Rorschach Theatre’s immersive ‘Chemical Exile’ is a night full of wonder

By Ajani Jones

This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts here. 

Culminating a seven-chapter cross-city adventure, Rorschach Theatre’s immersive Chemical Exile: Synthesis is a thrilling and heartfelt sci-fi adventure that explores new bonds and experiences born of great loss and immense change.

Chemical Exile questions the bounds of reality as the audience is introduced to the newest breakthrough of a scientific team at R2 Labs. The play exposes its audience, fellow individuals displaced across realities, to the scientists’ trials and failures at returning the displaced to their own realities, all while delving into each scientist’s background and story.

Throughout, the play skillfully introduces themes of loss and predestination that help ground its more fantastic elements. There is an undercurrent of the staggering grief and pain that come with drastically changing circumstances. The play handles these themes very tactfully (and creatively) by integrating them with the sci-fi elements of the story.

Chemical Exile also interestingly navigates the dynamics between fate, chance, and faith while also exploring how individuals may adapt to great changes.

The cast of Chemical Exile, although relatively small, is extremely powerful. The main scientists, Teddy (Arika Thames), Velouria (Jen Rabbitt Ring), and Kallik (Erik Harrison), are all incredibly charming and present unique personalities that help keep the audience engaged throughout their tour. Each of these scientists perfectly conveys their position and motivations through powerful and emotional performance.

Thames’ portrayal of Teddy is especially notable as her arc is arguably the emotional crux of the play. Passionate about her work, Teddy has a strong desire to return everyone to their respective realities. Thames portrays Teddy’s passion and desperation incredibly well, allowing the audience to become genuinely invested in her work as well as her personal motivations and journey.

The cast’s strength is further magnified by sheer amounts of emotional sincerity. Throughout its duration, Chemical Exiles explores a vast range of themes and complex feelings, all of which are treated with reverence and emotional weight. From moments of success to moments of panic and sorrow, the play transitions between highs and lows, emphasizing the immense amount of heart built into the script, as well as the considerable understanding these actors have for their characters and their motivations.

While steeped in existential questions of reality and navigating grief brought on by drastic change and loss, Chemical Exile never allows itself to become too grim and heavy.

Instead, the play fully embraces the sheer wackiness of science fiction and allows itself to maintain a consistent humorous tone that never undermines the sincerity of heavier scenes. In fact, moments of humor at the play’s climax enhance the sense of urgency and panic pushed by the narrative, resulting in a harmonious relationship between the humor and narrative and emotional strength of this play.

Although its core premise of crossing realities is nothing new to the world of fiction, the cast and team behind Chemical Exile inject immense creativity and spirit into this core idea to synthesize something new and captivating.

The immersive nature of the play works extremely well to capitalize on the play’s inherent creativity and charm. The audience is treated to a genuine tour of the labs and treated as if they were taking part in a genuine scientific demonstration. Excellent costumes and props work well to set the scene. And certain sections of the evening allow the audience to explore at their own leisure and experience the labs in individually unique ways.

The breathtaking set design (led by the team of Nadir Bey, Sarah Beth Hall, and Grace Trudeau) helps to truly transport the audience into the space and the play’s exploration of different realities. The team effectively capitalized upon the immense venue afforded by the Waterfront Centre, which allowed for a plethora of stunning visual choices. The immense care placed into the set design was also evident as each room felt unique and carefully designed but also seamlessly integrated into the atmosphere and story of Chemical Exile. A wide range of lighting and sound effects also helped each room and set piece come to life and convincingly transport the audience into the worlds and theories being explored.

Chemical Exile is an undeniably fun and unique experience. Perfectly executed emotional highs and lows all seamlessly woven together within a curious sci-fi premise make for a night full of wonder and genuine enjoyment for all audiences displaced across realities.

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Chemical Exile: Synthesis plays to July 24, 2022, presented by Rorschach Theatre performing at R2 Labs at Waterfront Centre, 800 9th Street SW, Washington, DC.  Tickets ($45, $30 student and senior, $20 industry) are on sale online. Shows are on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 pm.

Wonder and humor thrive in ‘Native Gardens’ at Silver Spring Stage

By Ajani Jones

 This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts here.

Striking the perfect balance between humor and sincere reflection, Native Gardens serves as the ideal close to Silver Spring Stage’s season. Amid a year that marks a resurgence and revival for theater across the globe, this play does an excellent job of portraying the difficulties of transitioning and adapting in an ever-changing world.

Producer Maura Suilebhan and Director Matt Ripa lead the presentation of this wonderful play. Native Gardens gives a glimpse into the life of new and old residents of the DMV as it explores the unique dynamics between new and old residents. The play follows Pablo and Tania Del Valle (Chris Galindo and Alexandra Bailey) as they settle into their new neighborhood and navigate an interesting relationship with their new neighbors, established residents Virginia and Frank Butley (Sarah Holt and Scott Holden).

Alexandra Bailey (Tania Del Valle), Chris Galindo (Pablo Del Valle), Scott Holden (Frank Butley), and Sarah Holt (Virginia Butley) in ‘Native Gardens.’ Photo by Ira Levine.

As the play progresses, both couples must learn this new dynamic across a shared property line. A self-proclaimed “love letter to the DMV” by Playwright Karen Zacarías, Native Gardens is a story that capitalizes well on its core themes of diversity, home, and change. As the couples work through their many differences and explore their unique similarities, Zacarías highlights the social and cultural melting pot of the community, especially as new generations come into contact with the old.

Although relatively short at a mere 90-minute runtime, the play handles its undeniably important subject matter solidly. Every moment of Native Gardens feels purposeful and highly impactful, revealing keen attention to detail and appreciation for the real stories this play adapts.

Through its intentional and tactful treatment of its core themes of change and diversity in the DMV, Native Gardens remains topical three years after its debut. The play, in its reflective nature, thus conveys an awareness and attention to detail that is only improved upon by the incredible cast.

Through its explorations of these themes and important topics, Native Gardens also does an amazing job of balancing its tone with genuinely engaging and creative humor. At no point do the jokes feel out of place or forced; the play’s humor enhances its overall presentation and allows for moments of cheer that flow seamlessly into the play’s conclusion and complement the more serious moments rather than competing with them.

The play focuses on its four primary characters, the Del Valles and Butleys, the only speaking roles. This limited cast works extremely well in the show’s favor as the audience is allowed to connect deeply with each character. Bailey, Galindo, Holt, and Holden deliver powerful performances that faithfully portray a group of people doing their best to acclimate to their changing world, thus allowing the audience to become fully immersed in how their stories unfold.

Chris Galindo (Pablo Del Valle), Alexandra Bailey (Tania Del Valle), Sarah Holt (Virginia Butley), and Scott Holden (Frank Butley) in ‘Native Gardens.’ Photo by Ira Levine.

Even beyond their individually powerful performances, the cast of Native Gardens has almost palpable chemistry that elevates their characters further. The respective couples convincingly portray their love and appreciation for each other, but as they break out of their molds and begin to interact separately with the other couple, the true strength of the cast goes on full display. All four actors play well off one another and match one another’s energy in a delightful way that leaves the audience craving more of their one-on-one interactions.

The play takes place in a small space: the backyards of the neighboring houses. The set design, led by Leigh K. Rawls, is absolutely stunning, bringing a layer of wonder to the play while adding to the story with minor but significant prop changes. The small set also allows for focus on the characters and their stories rather than overwhelming them with over complicated design.

Scott Holden (Frank Butley) and Sarah Holt (Virginia Butley) in ‘Native Gardens.’ Photo by Ira Levine.

Matthew Datcher’s sound design brings another layer of wonder to the play. The sound effects, often used as curiously charming transitions between scenes, add subtly to the show in a way that does not detract from overall audience enjoyment but instead enhances it. Furthermore, the sound design acts as another element of nonverbal storytelling and works well throughout the play to encapsulate and fortify the wonderful story being told.

Native Gardens is a beautifully executed glimpse into the lives of many who call the DMV home. Despite its small scale, the play leaves a grand impact with its lovely story, gorgeous set, and well-executed humor.