Herb Your Enthusiasm
PCPA Theaterfest could hardly have found a more appropriate director than Catalina Maynard to helm Native Gardens, Karen Zacarias’ 90-minute play in which a battle between formerly friendly new neighbors over cultivating gardens in their separate yards echoes the polarization and cultural wars currently characterizing the country. Maynard has previous PCPA experience as an actor as part of the summer company in 2006, 2008, and 2010, and is returning to the repertory company for the first time as a director for Native Gardens following years as an award-winning and NEA grant receiving professional actor and director in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
But it’s also what she’s done away from the stage in the interim that gives Maynard an edge: serving as a Learning Specialist in Narrative Medicine at UCSD’s UniversityLink Medical Science Program. Narrative medicine, which straddles the intersection of humanities, the arts, clinical practice, and health care justice, draws on the study of art and literature to enhance listening and observation skills and expand the view of patients to encompass more than just medical histories.
“The number one thing that an actor needs to use is the skill of active listening, and that’s also an important component of narrative medicine,” said Maynard, who encountered the field when she was part of the artistic component of a team creating culturally-aware instructional films for residents and future physicians. Given that culture clash is at the heart of both the struggle and comedy in Native Gardens, her work in narrative medicine only enhances her perspective on the play.
That and the fact that she grew up in National City, which at the time was replete with chain link fences along property lines.
“They were everywhere in the neighborhood, and when I read the play I just immediately connected to it,” she said.
The two couples in the play, which takes place over the course of a week, find a very cordial initial meeting come to a clash when the longstanding, well-cultivated garden that is the passion of Frank, half of an older, retired, white couple, might be threatened by the plans of new neighbor Tania, whose husband is from Chile, who wants to transform her backyard into a natural oasis for native flora and fauna. The conflict confronts issues of race, gender, age, and the many metaphorical walls we build in our lives, and leads to accusations, bitterness, and acrimony as the four characters struggle to come to terms with each other.
In the playwright’s point of view, however, there’s a lightness of spirit and plenty of funny moments that lighten the load as the characters continue to come together to fight and try to forge a better connection.
“There’s a big level of misunderstandings, and initially they’re not terribly willing to listen to each other,” Maynard said. “But nobody is a villain, nobody is evil on purpose and the play is what happens when people are willing to walk through uncomfortable moments because they want to understand each other. These four characters make mistakes, but they don’t stop wanting to communicate, and to go to each other and figure it out.”
That’s part of the beauty of the script by Zacarias, who Maynard knows personally and even work on the development of a different one of her works.
“She wants us to consider that more than one idea, philosophy, aesthetic or way of living can exist and thrive in a shared space.”
Maybe like a doctor and a patient in the examination room?
Native Gardens, which has proved wildly popular among regional theaters since it was written in 2015, makes its belated area debut as the second and final play in PCPA’s summer season at the newly refurbished Solvang Festival Theater, with seven performances September 9-17. Call (805) 922-8313 or visit www.pcpa.org.