RACINE – In the comedy ‘Native Gardens’, Norgie Metzinger plays a lawyer who is gifted as a lawyer but has no knowledge of landscape design.
Hence his character, Pablo Del Valle, has “a barren backyard.”
Metzinger can understand that.
“My landscaping skills are only rivaled by my figure skating skills,” said the veteran community theater actor. “I’ve never actually skated before, but I don’t have to go figure skating to know I’m just not good at it.
“Cultivating the earth is a passion and skill that many people possess and distinguish. I wasn’t blessed with the passion or ability to do it.”
On the show, Pablo and his wife Tania live alongside Frank and Virginia Butley, who have an award-winning garden.
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When Pablo and Tania discover that part of Frank and Virginia’s garden actually belongs to them, their friendship devolves into what’s been described as “a side-splitting, back-and-forth mud fight, all-out turf war.”
It was the sharply written screenplay that drew Metzinger to the role, rather than the gardening issue. Even more important, however, is the type of role he plays.
“Theater has been a part of my life since I was very young and I’ve been involved with the Racine Theater Guild for almost 20 years,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of shows and played a lot of different roles, but this is the first time in my theater life that I’ve had the privilege of playing a Latino/Hispanic character.
“As a Hispanic, you’re certainly grateful to be able to have this performance. I’m not saying that because I get to play someone of Latino/Hispanic descent, it means that my acting isn’t going to get any better or that I’m any funnier, but there are a lot of cultural and family experiences from my own life that apply to this character, this performance and the show as a whole.”
Some of the show’s themes, he said, deal with “the apparent dichotomies between people of different races, cultures and upbringings.”
While the play, written by Karen Zacarías, is funny, he added, it has multiple layers.
“On the surface, the show is a brisk, entertaining, and light-hearted comedic flower. However, that flower is planted in many raw, topical, and sometimes difficult issues,” Metzinger said. “It’s a fun show that audiences can relate to, with themes that split down the middle between the characters, prompting the audience to look at those themes objectively from two very different perspectives.
“This show doesn’t choose a side, nor does it challenge the audience to do so. She sheds universal light on many of today’s hot-button issues: politics, class, entitlement, privilege, race, culture, upbringing, stereotypes, and basic people It’s a lighthearted comedy, yes, but there are definitely deep roots to the subtext, which will make people look at themselves and maybe open the door to a meaningful dialogue.
“All in all,” he added, “it’s a show that everyone will enjoy.”
Back on stage
Raquel Wright, who plays Tania Del Valle, returns to the stage for the first time since high school.
“I’ve always loved theater, but unfortunately I’ve never had the time or really a support system to do a show after high school until now,” she said. “My husband is the one who really pushed me to get back out there and do theater again.
“One of our goals is to be on stage together in a show, and that’s why I’m coming back to theater now.”
Her character is described as “very pregnant,” which Wright finds “very odd” on stage. I have never had children or been pregnant before. I didn’t think I would get pregnant so soon!
More importantly, her character is “a strong Latina woman written by a Latina woman. That’s what attracted me the most. Not many roles are written for Latina actresses in theater so it felt like a true honor to be cast in this role.”
Like her character, Wright says she lacks landscaping.
“My husband Jonathan and I bought our first house last year and our landscaping skills are the worst,” she said. “We’re trying to get better because we’d like to plant flowers and one day we’d like to have a beautiful garden.”
Both Wright and Metzinger said the turf wars that erupt in this comedy may seem silly, but “You might be surprised at how heated and contentious the turf battles can get,” Metzinger said.
When the passion boils, he added, “It’s certainly something we can all relate to no matter what the subject.”