A Tale as Old as Property Lines: Hampton Theatre Company Opens Season with ‘Native Gardens’

Martha Kelly and Samantha Herrera are sparring neighbors in the Hampton Theatre Company production of "Native Gardens," running October 21 through November 7 at the Quogue Community Hall. Tom Kochie photo.

A fence between two neighbors can be so much more than a fence.

On the most basic level, it represents a property line. But it can also separate age, left- and right-leaning politics, culture and, of course, the gardens themselves — as is the case in “Native Gardens,” a play by Karen Zacarías.

If this conflict sounds eerily familiar, it should.

While the action unfolds in Washington, D.C. — where the playwright, who is an immigrant from Mexico, lives — it is very much an East End story, a place where thorny border disputes, clashing cultures and divisive politics are fodder for news articles and local gossip alike.

And for those reasons, it’s the ideal backdrop for “Native Gardens” itself, at least according to director George Loizides, whose production will open the Hampton Theatre Company’s upcoming season on Thursday at Quogue Community Hall.

Edwin Alexander Cruz, Samantha Herrera, Martha Kelly and Terrance Fiore in rehearsal for “Native Gardens” opening October 21 at Hampton Theatre Company. Photo: Tom Kochie.

“We first talked about the play almost two years ago,” he said, driving to rehearsal on Friday afternoon from his home in Bellport. “It reads like a really, really good TV sitcom — but with a message. And I’m a TV freak, I’ve always been a TV freak, so that appealed to me.”

His favorite sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” is actually mentioned in “Native Gardens,” he noted, which centers on two well-intentioned couples who become feuding enemies. The first is Pablo and Tania Del Valle — he a rising attorney from Chile and she an extremely pregnant doctoral candidate. They are young, hip and liberal, Loizides said, new to the neighborhood after buying a messy fixer-upper.

On the other side of the fence is Frank and Virginia Butley, an older, conservative, established Anglo couple with a picture-perfect home and yard. She is a defense contractor and he is a semi-retired GSA agent, who now tends passionately to his pristine and prize-worthy English garden.

At first, they are all happy to be neighbors, until Pablo and Tania realize they actually own two more feet of backyard than they previously thought — which would mean smashing through Frank’s beloved hydrangeas and peonies with a new fence line.

“It goes from fully friendly and neighborly into this spiraling border war,” Loizides said. “It’s funny in the way that does happen, and rings true about people. If I wasn’t directing, I would find it fun to be in the play.”

Before auditions, Loizides reads the script up to five times through, honing in on the story, the comedic elements and getting a better sense of the characters and what they ultimately want.

“Then, I hope I get the actors that fit into what I think my vision is,” he said. “That was a little bit of a rough start for us.”

Due to strict COVID-19 protocols required by the Actors’ Equity Association, Loizides said the company opted to cast non-union talent, which was the first limitation. Then, many of the Latinx actors based on Long Island were already working, he explained, so he decided to look elsewhere.

Los Angeles-based actor Edwin A. Cruz will portray Pablo — “He came east just to do the show,” Loizides said — opposite Samantha Herrera as Tania, an HTC veteran along with Terrance Fiore as Frank and Martha Kelly as Virginia.

“I can actually, in a way, see both couples’ points of view,” Loizides said. “I think as some people get older, their views become a little bit more conservative. I can say that’s sort of true with me. That appealed to me, being able to understand, to a degree, both sides of the story.”

The all-out border dispute exposes both couples’ notions of race, taste, class and privilege, and the director said he hopes audiences leave thinking about cultural differences — and how they perceive one another.

“I think that combination of people and the clash of cultures rings true to the East End,” Loizides said, “I think people will take from it different things, but I think there’s enough to take.”

The Hampton Theatre Company will open its 2021-22 season with “Native Gardens,” a play by Karen Zacarías, on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Quogue Community Hall. Additional performances will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through November 7. A talkback with the cast will follow the October 29 show, and another matinée will stage on November 6 at 2:30 p.m.

The production stars Edwin A. Cruz, Samantha Herrera, Terrance Fiore and Martha Kelly. George Loizides directs. Set design is by Gary Hygom, lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski, sound by Seamus Naughton and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.

Tickets are $36, $31 for seniors and $20 for students age 25 and under. All guests are required to wear masks and show photo ID with either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the day of the performance. For more information, visit hamptontheatre.org.