Karen Zacarías

Garden Wars at The Armory

Two sets of neighbors and a battleground of flowers: Portland Center Stage's "Native Gardens" is an explosive, plant-based satire

Imagine that you’ve just moved to a new home. It has multiple floors, a formidable tree, and a garden that could really be something with a few more blossoms and shrubs. There’s just one problem—the couple in the house next door has been planting flowers on part of your property for years, and they pout and snap whenever you confront them. Why, you wonder, can’t they just admit that it isn’t theirs?

Now picture the other side of the equation. You’ve meticulously cared for those flowers, nourishing them with both love and pesticides. Who are your neighbors to rob you of that pleasure? They just got here! Why can’t they have some compassion? Why can’t they understand?

Paul DeBoy, Anne-Marie Cusson, Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez, and Erick González in Native Gardens. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Add those two perspectives together and you get Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, which has come to Portland Center Stage. It’s a tale of neighborly conflict that, unfortunately, builds up to an implausibly tidy conclusion. Yet it’s still a treat to watch director Melissa Crespo’s cast of outstanding actors tear into Zacarías’ deliciously tart dialogue, bringing their characters to gloriously unlikable life.

Continues…

The beautiful North, and back again

Milagro's "Into the Beautiful North" tells a wild tale of a band of outsiders on a journey to rediscover home

 

Dorothy Gale once said while clicking her heels, “There’s no place like home.” But she had to travel far and wide, down the yellow brick road, through the Emerald City, against all strange odds, to get back where she started and belonged. Milagro Theatre’s Into the Beautiful North is a similarly wild tale of a band of outsiders on a journey to discover that the golden and kaleidoscope-feathered Aztlán, legendary ancestral home of the Aztec peoples, is a state of mind.

Olga Sanchez and Daniel Jáquez direct Karen Zacarías’s new adaptation of Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel by the same name. It’s not magical realism, but it creates a surreal and vivid dreamscape, from the tiny town of Tres Camarones (translated as Three Shrimps), across the Tijuana/United States border, to a brief pit stop in San Diego, through the dusty and dry desert of Nevada (where’s the snow?), Colorado, and a small town named Kankakee, Illinois, with two gazebos donated by David Letterman, and finally back again to Tres Camarones.

Taking a magnificent quest into the beautiful North. Photo: Russell J Young

Taking a magnificent quest into the beautiful North. Photo: Russell J Young

The three heroes are led by Nayeli, played by Michelle Escobar, who on the outside is a pretty but plain girl who waitresses at a cafe with the only internet connection in town. But, as with Dorothy, don’t let appearances fool you: Nayeli has an unbridled imagination. Her best friend, Vampi (Michelle Caughlin), is the small-town Goth chick complete with corset, hot pants, patterned stockings, and maroon black lipstick. Vampi is one of the tale’s least romantic characters, despite her appearance, and adds a little restraint to Nayeli’s stargazing. Tacho (Danny Mareno) is Nayeli’s boss, and one of the last men who live in Tres Camarones. He faces constant tiny aggressions because he’s gay. The exodus of men to the United States has left the fishing village open to threats from narcos and other highway bandidos. Nayeli is inspired by the ’60s classic western film The Magnificent Seven to find seven equal warriors to protect Tres Camarones.

Continues…