Meet the Gardeners of "Native Gardens" | Signature Series | Orlando Shakespeare Theater Meet the Gardeners of "Native Gardens" | Signature Series | Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Meet the Gardeners of “Native Gardens”

An Interview with Actors Aléa Figueroa and Michael Edwards



Orlando Shakes spoke with actors Aléa Figueroa and Michael Edwards, who play Tania and Frank respectively in Native Gardens. Despite their characters’ blossoming feud, these two gardeners grow to understand each other.

OST: Describe Native Gardens in three words.

Photo by Tony Firriolo features Michael Edwards and Aléa Figueroa.

Aléa Figueroa: Love thy neighbor.

Michael Edwards: Social. Conflict. Care.

OST: List three ways your characters, Tania and Frank, are alike. 

ME: Passionate. Devoted. Dedicated.

OST: Three ways they are different.

AF: Of course, they have the generational gap and different cultural backgrounds but the biggest difference between the two gardeners is how they want to impact the world. Frank is interested in nurturing his garden so it’s as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Tania is less concerned with aesthetics and more concerned with her garden’s overall purpose. Frank believes he is helping the world by making it beautiful and Tania believes she is helping the world by making it self sustaining.

OST: Tell us about your characters’ different gardening styles and how that influences their relationship in the play.

ME: Frank is old school. He uses all the pesticides, all the chemicals. He wants the show. He wants the glory of the beautiful plants and to share that with other people, which is why he keeps trying to get involved with this gardening contest. He wants beauty around him.

She is much more concerned with what’s good for the soil, what’s good for the earth. That’s why a lot of her plants are low-lying native shrubs that he calls weeds. She wants a native garden, while he has imported plants and fed them Miracle Grow, to keep them big and lush and beautiful. Her idea is much more low-lying, native and concerned with the environment.

OST: Do either of you have a green thumb in real life?

ME: No! Not at all!

AF: Oh heavens no! I have a brown thumb. There’s no way around it – any plant I touch eventually dies. My mother was a gardener but the green thumb must have skipped a generation.

OST: What has been the most challenging part of working on this production?

AF: Finding the right tempo for this piece has been a challenge. Native Gardens is reminiscent of a sitcom but it’s important to keep the characters grounded. It can be easy to fall into the trap of playing the “gags.” It’s a funny situational comedy with a lot of heart and it’s been a wonderful challenge to balance both the “funny” with the emotional gravitas of the show. I think the cast does an excellent job of doing so!

ME: Keeping up with the rest of the cast!

OST: What is your favorite line your character delivers in the show?

AF: “Don’t tell me to calm down. It implies I’m being irrational when I am being passionately rational.” I have been told to “calm down” on more than one occasion in my life and I finally have a response to that absurd request. Thank you, Karen Zacarías!

ME: “Is there an uglier word in the english language than squat?”

OST: What was it like developing the physical comedy in the show?

AF: Exhausting. Giving birth every night has been a labor-ious task!

ME: Our director made sure the comedy came out of the characters. I’m an older person, playing an older person, so my physical comedy was limited and concise. The other people have much larger stuff. The physical comedy is not Three Stooges, it’s Dick Van Dyke. It’s very connected to the script.

OST: Did you do anything different to prepare for this show?

AF: Pregnancy suit! Personally I’ve never been 8 months pregnant so not only did I wear my pregnancy suit during rehearsals but I also had a blast wearing it out and about. I wanted to incorporate it in my daily activities like grabbing a cup of coffee, getting my haircut, shopping for groceries, etc. People also treated me quite differently so it became an inadvertent sociological experiment. I don’t know how many people asked me when I was due. I, of course, played along.

ME: No, because Frank is old and so am I!

OST: Do you have any behind the scenes antics or fun facts you would like to share with our patrons?

AF: I love that I get to eat ice cream for the play every night! Our stage manager, George Hamrah, asked if I would be okay with consuming the dessert and I told him that’s the reason I agreed to be in the production! (Yes, this was an actual conversation.)

ME: We were so focused on the show, we had our laughs, but nothing specific sticks out except that it was lot of fun. The four of us enjoyed ourselves so much with [Director Cynthia White]. We had drinks one night, and went to see Star Wars as a group along with the rest of the Theater. We were a good combination of people and we’re having a lot of fun!

OST: Anything else you’d like to add?

ME: The humor is rooted in honesty and springs from a real problem. The script tries to skirt some of the political levels around it without becoming political. [Karen Zacarías] is a really great writer becauses she’ll just touch on a topic and then back off.

AF: It’s been eight years since I have performed at Orlando Shakes and I am so thrilled to be back especially in a production that is both written and directed by women. As a young, Latina woman, it’s inspiring to see Karen Zacarías’ work produced in my hometown. I hope you enjoy the journey of Native Gardens as much as I have enjoyed bringing the story to life.

Native Gardens, the sitcom style comedy of good intentions and bad manners, runs at Orlando Shakes from January 3 – February 4, 2018. Click here for tickets.