“Hedge” Grows Wild, Attacks Gentrifiers, at Playground Festival, Portrero Stage, S.F.

“Hedge” Grows Wild, Attacks Gentrifiers, at Playground Festival, Portrero Stage, S.F.

Robin Lynn Rodriguez Shows What Yuppies Really Want

by Barry David Horwitz

It doesn’t take much to trash the Yuppie Gentrifiers, near Maxwell Park, Oakland—or in S.F., or anywhere else, either.  But it’s such a pleasure to indulge in Yuppie-baiting. I, for one, enjoy it a lot—and we all try to ignore our part in it, too. I guess it’s mostly a generational thing—if you got into a house some decades ago, it’s cool. But if you are recently struggling to find a place to live, you are screwed, and everybody knows it.  And we all know who is to blame?  Don’t we?

You can find out for yourself at the 21st Annual Playground Festival of New Works–at Portrero Stage, with thanks to Artistic Director James A. Kleinmann and Director Emilie Talbot.

Daryl Anthony Harper, Kimberly Ridgeway, Steven Westdahl, Louel Senores, and Caitlin Evenson

In Robin Lynn Rodruguez’s intriguing play “Hedge,” she explores the relations between two couples living in a newly gentrifying neighborhood in East Oakland. One couple has lived there for a long time, and they are well-fixed on the street—that’s Lily (Kimberly Ridgeway) and David (Steven Westdahl), a racially mixed couple who are proud of what they have accomplished and are raising their kids happily in the old/new neighborhood.

In fact, Lily grew up not far away in a fancier, older neighborhood called Maxwell Park, where her parents still live. Lily is a woman who knows her mind—and she wants that overgrown hedge in her neighbor’s yard put under control before it blights everyone’s property values.

Steven Westdahl, Kimberly Ridgeway, and Caitlin Evenson. All photos by Mellophoto.com

On the other hand, Jen (Caitlin Evenson) and Jason (Louel Senores) are a  younger, more naïve couple who have moved in recently. They have a baby, mostly offstage but insisting on attention—making for dramatic exits by Mom and Dad. Jen wants to get along: she refuses to cut the hedge for fear of offending her neighbors. And Jason, well, he is idealistic and optimistic about the future and won’t rock the boat, either.

For Lily, a Black woman, Jen and Jason are lovable, naïve, and foolish interlopers. She does her best to educate them about realities.

Each of the actors does a wonderful job creating a recognizable and unique character. As Lily, Ridgeway is powerful and admirable in her firmness of purpose and fiery temperament. As her husband David, Westdahl tries to keep his cool, playing the protective and angry husband, perfectly.

Louel Senores, Caitlin Evenson, Kimberly Ridgeway, and Steven Westdahl in “Hedge” at Playground

Evenson plays Jen as a sweet and sensitive young mother; and Senores is a likeable, logical young yuppie husband, balancing his wife’s terrors. Jen and Jason even want to get along with that damned encroaching hedge.

But into the garden strolls a sweet jazz saxophonist named Craig, played by the superb Daryl Anthony Harper. Craig knows how to get along and apologizes to the young couple for some goings on at his house, on the other side of the hedge. He is visiting a cousin there, and last night, there was a problem that spilled out into the street.

The police were on the scene. Who called the police? Was it necessary? Who hid in the house? Who engaged? Who peeked from behind the curtains?

Kimberly Ridgeway, Steven Westdahl, and Caitlin Evenson

Craig tries to explain matters to Jen and later to both couples, at a disastrous dinner in the garden. Well, some folks are just not taking any explanations—some folks have an agenda to fulfill and property values to protect. And that damned hedge stays in full view, creeping over the fences that supposedly make good neighbors. You want to be there for the fireworks.

You want to see how they treat Craig, and how he brilliantly replies to Lily’s and David’s attacks. They make a symphony of discords, a jazz riff on Craig’s wise insights. Hey, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be a leaf on that hurtful hedge as the five of them play a quarrelsome quintet. Listen to Harper as Craig—he makes sweet sounds.

Daryl Anthony Harper, Steven Westdahl, Caitlin Evenson, and Kimberly Ridgeway

You leave that garden party with a greater understanding of what’s at stake in this gentrifying world of real estate. You will leave a better and wiser and more sympathetic person after seeing Robin Lynn Rodriguez’s play called “Hedge.”

That’s not Trumpean salestalk, that’s the truth. Bravo Playground!

Kimberly Ridgeway and Caitlin Evenson in “Hedge” at Playground Festival

“Hedge” by Robin Lynn Rodriguez, directed by Emilie Talbot, at the 21st Annual Playground Festival of New Works, at Portrero Stage, 1695 Eighteenth Street, San Francisco, 94107, plays through Wednesday, June 17, 2017. Info: playground-sf

Cast: Caitlin Evenson, Louel Senores, Kimberly Ridgeway, Steven Westdahl, and Daryl Anthony Harper.

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