Even standing before the 12-foot tall tree that takes center stage in the Coastal Repertory Theatre’s production of “Native Gardens,” you wouldn’t imagine that the tree is primarily made up of carpet bits.
Heading the effort of this hyper-realistic set piece is Jane Seifert, a longtime supporter of the Coastal Rep and member of the “Little Old Ladies,” also known as the LOLs who volunteer at the theater.
For a time, Seifert’s garage was full of pieces of carpeting, causing much curiosity in the neighborhood. The LOLs kept busy with “tree workshops” for eight weeks in order to create this tree.
“Our set designer (Doug McCurdy) is very creative and very detail oriented,” Seifert said. “He called us and told us that there was going to be this enormous tree in house, on the stage and he wanted us to work on it because it was going to be very involved.”
After gluing the pieces of carpet to the trunk and painting it, they cut out paper leaves and glued them to real branches.
“The chief character in the play is the damn garden,” said Paul Smith, director of “Native Gardens.” “It’s a glorious thing, it’s just phenomenal what this tree looks like. It doesn’t look like a stage prop, it looks like a big oak tree growing in the middle of the stage.”
Building trees is but one of the many ways the LOLs help out at the theater.
“I love the LOLs,” said Deborah Joves, who plays Virginia in Native Gardens. “Everyone loves the LOLs. They are just a group of the nicest people. They always make me smile when I see them. They are so warm-hearted and fun.”
Seifert, along with Norma Vite, who goes by Gina Lollobrigida, Jane Hansen, or Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Parry, nicknamed Audrey Hepburn and Donna McCurdy create themed cocktails for each production, help with costumes and set building and volunteer countless hours at the theater to make these productions happen.
“God bless them,” said Tom Poeschl Jr. who plays Frank in “Native Gardens.” “The theater is so supported by volunteers. It’s just heartwarming to see everyone involved. I talk about my passion as an actor and I see people with that same level of passion getting no mention in the playbill but they are still here for the love of the theater and community.”
Seifert has been involved in the theater since 1989, before the Coastal Rep moved to its current location.
“I just love the theater,” Seifert said. “The people, the camaraderie, sometimes the drama. We’re presenting things for others to enjoy.
“It’s a good place to be,” she said. “It’s family to me.”
The tree they worked so hard to construct will shine in the production, which runs through Aug. 22.
“Native Gardens” is a 90-minute, one-act show that follows two couples who live next to each other in Washington D.C. Frank and Virginia Butley are an older white couple who boast a beautiful, manicured garden and hope it will win an award from the Potomac Horticultural Society. Next door are Tania and Pablo Del Valle, a Latinx couple in their 30s who carefully designed a “native garden” made of plants indigenous to the environment.
When replacing the fence between the two properties Pablo discovers that they are entitled to two feet more space. Moving the fence would ruin Frank’s garden just days before his competition.
“It’s a warmhearted and empathetic metaphor for ageism, sexism, racism and border disputes,” said Joves. “Walls being built between people. I think that ultimately it has a very positive outlook that we all should be able to live next to each other as a nation. Recently we’ve been having a lot of very hard discussions with each other but I feel like the discussions are becoming harder and harder to have because people aren’t listening to each other. People who come to this play can think about those issues, by using humor it makes the conversation more accessible than it feels right now.”
Karen Zacarias’ comedy raises a dialogue about border disputes and the story reflects conflict and aggressions on the national level.
“This play was published in 2016 so it was fresh after the comments that former President Donald Trump had made about the border and building a wall,” said Tony Ortega who plays Pablo. “This territorial dispute represents the territorial dispute that divided the country. What we can learn from this play is that we have to respect one another and get along with our neighbors and really get to know the culture behind each person that we encounter, whether they be of Polish descent or from Mexico.”
“There’s no villain in this play,” said Salma Zepeda who plays Tania. “I think it’s a play about people and their own blind spots and ignorance. It definitely holds up a mirror to the audience, hopefully in a nice way so we can recognize our faults and move on from them.”