La Jolla Playhouse Opens Season After 18 Months with Commissioned World Premiere of The Garden

A piece where the Story, the Set Design, and the Direction Shine Bright 
1000 free tickets will be offered to educators and healthcare workers over the course of the run in honor of the late Dr. Lawrence Friedman, La Jolla Playhouse Trustee, UC San Diego professor, and renowned local physician
Stephanie Berry (right) as “Claire Rose” and Charlayne Woodard as “Cassandra” in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of THE GARDEN. Photo by Rich Soublet.

It is unbelievable how the world is almost two years into this drastic change. The feelings of happiness, anxiety, and joy were felt at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse in its first opening after a year and a half. 

A commissioned piece by Charlayne Woodard who also plays the role of Cassandra, The Garden features a mother and a daughter who have not seen each other or spoken in three years. Once inside the Potiker Theatre, Tony Award winner Rachel Hauck's impressive set design of a backyard garden graces the center of the space. This is what many people's dream garden would look like. Veggies everywhere waiting to be harvested and all the tools to do so. Fall has just started, trees with orange and brown leaves pop as well. Claire Rose (Stephanie Berry) steps into the garden ready to water, pull, and dig in her sanctuary. Then, daughter Cassandra surprises her with an out-of-the-blue visit. 

Charlayne Woodard and Stephanie Berry in THE GARDEN. Photo by Rich Soublet.
In a heated exchange of words, the two actresses move around the space which is at the same level as the first audience rows. The direction of power duo Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and Patricia McGregor is very precise and organic. A choreography like dynamic where Berry and Woodard move in the round talking to each other and then the audience, go around, switch sides, and go again. Wonderful props complement the set and delivery. From running water to dirt, just dirt that enhances each step. Delicia and Patricia, well known, San Diego favorites and strong directors were an excellent choice for this piece, I would have loved to see the rehearsal process and the decision-making. 

Even though Charlayne Woodard as Cassandra is engaging and rich with a deep and complex inflection, it seemed as she is a tad too tight with the script. It felt a little overdone at times. The double-dipping situation of an actor-playwright creating something and acting in it is confusing to me yet, for this piece specifically it is understandable. A play with two older Black women sharing a story from their perspective is necessary and refreshing. It is also relatable. Not only does it touch upon a mother-daughter relationship, it additionally points out the differences and disagreements in a generational gap. Many layers are unpacked throughout the performance, the gap marked by the obvious age difference and times is too marked by race, experienced racism, and pain. 

Stephanie Berry's portrayal of the stubborn and opinionated Claire Rose flows naturally and reaches a powerful surrender. 

The performance kept audiences gasping and tight in their seats also delivering jaw-dropping surprises. The Garden is a perfect season opener and not for the weak. Feelings will turn in a shocking and unexpected way.
Stephanie Berry (left) as “Claire Rose” and Charlayne Woodard as “Cassandra” in La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of THE GARDEN. Photo by Rich Soublet.

The creative team also includes Karen Perry, Costume Designer; UC San Diego MFA graduate Sherrice Mojgani, Lighting Designer; Luqman Brown, Sound Designer; Kirsten Childs (Playhouse’s Fly), Original Music; Nikiya Mathis, Wig Designer; Erica Jensen, Casting; Shirley Fishman, Dramaturg; and Chandra Anthenill (Playhouse’s 2020 POP Tour Emily Driver’s Great Race Through Time and Space), Stage Manager. 

Playing until October 17. For ticket prices, dates and times please go to their website

COVID safety measures were in place at the entrance with staff members checking for vaccine cards and Ids. There were also staff members carrying boxes with flower-themed facemasks free for patrons. 

Due to the construction of the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, the usual lots across the street from the Playhouse are not currently available. Free parking will be offered in the Osler Parking Structure, at the corner of Gilman and Scholars Drive. Complimentary shuttles will make ongoing runs between Osler and the Playhouse before and after performances. Masks are required to ride the shuttle.

Shameless plug: listen to me talk to awesome artists and the arts in our wonderful podcast From Another Zero. The latest episode is "Disability Thinking Twice with Valerie Salgado".

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