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Karen Zacarias is basking in the huge popularity of her current comedy, Native Gardens.

The production that opens this week at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre is one of six that has either just wrapped up or is headed to the stage in the next few weeks at theaters including Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, N.Y.; Geva Theater Center in Rochester, N.Y.; Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers, Fla.; Cleveland Playhouse in Cleveland; and Portland Center Stage in Portland, Ore.

That doesn't include 2018-19 productions at the Pasadena Playhouse (directed by Jason Alexander) and more than a half-dozen other theaters around the country. Or the next-season production announced for Oct. 2-Nov. 10 by TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.

That helps make her one of the most-produced playwrights in the nation, although she admits she's still lagging behind, say, William Shakespeare.

"Dead people still win," she says with a laugh. "But it's lovely to be on the list. I'm surprised and happy."

[RELATED: Native Gardens at the Rep is a light-hearted look at borders, race and privilege]

The Washington-based playwright, a native of Mexico, is one of the inaugural Resident Playwrights at Arena Stage in the nation's capital, and is a core founder of the LatinX Theatre Commons and the founder of Young Playwrights' Theater, which teaches play writing in Washington, D.C., public schools.

Native Gardens and its topics of race, class and property rights attached to the conflict between next-door-neighbor D.C. couples, one older and white and one younger and "LatinX," seems to have "hit a nerve," she adds.

Zacarias says she particularly worked not to take sides or proclaim any favorites.

"I love all four of the main characters," she says. "I was an ally to all four. Everybody's decent, as most Americans are. They're all very human. They have their virtues and their faults, the way most people do. I think the affection comes through.

"At the end, the person you're judging is yourself."

Laughter, she notes, can be disarming when it comes to conflict.

Zacarias, however, is quick to skewer that trope about good fences making good neighbors, noting that it's frequently misused — even in her play — to defend boundaries.

"Everybody needs space, but closing yourself off is not the answer," she says. "At the end of the [Robert Frost] poem, he decides that you shouldn't have fences. Robert Frost is onto something."

Eric E. Harrison

Style on 04/16/2019

Print Headline: Native Gardens writer doesn't choose sides

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