“The Garden,” now available to stream from Baltimore Center Stage, is a powerfully moving portrait of a mother and daughter duo wrestling with each other, the past, and their differing journeys as Black women in America.
…a thoughtfully crafted and intricately nuanced masterpiece exploring the ways that a family can grow apart but, with a little tending, find themselves replanted in each other’s hearts.
Written by Charlayne Woodard (who also stars alongside Caroline Stefanie Clay) and directed by Patricia McGregor, this play took me on a meandering trail of twists and turns. Much like a meditative labyrinth, it ended by imparting me with a profound sense of discovery and a longing to engage in further thoughtful reflection on the path I’d traveled.
Daughter Cassandra surprises her mother Claire Rose with a visit, showing up unannounced in Claire Rose’s backyard vegetable garden. Cassandra obviously came for a reason, but keeps getting sidetracked from her explanation by the ongoing bickering and reminiscing with Claire Rose. This bickering ends up unearthing far more truth than either woman was expecting to dig up in the garden that day.
Past traumas are revisited while some are revealed for the first time. As each woman finally hears the other’s perspective, each gains insight into choices and behaviors that they had previously struggled to understand in the other. I was left broken-hearted by the journey’s end, but I also felt a sense of peace that reconciliation had been achieved, despite the brokenness and pain of both the past and present.
As an avid gardener myself, the set (designed by Rachel Hauck) drew me in right away. Lush, raised garden beds, full of ready-to-harvest autumn crops, a greenhouse, and an abundance of pots and garden tools on the back porch made me want to settle in and get my hands dirty — even metaphorically!
The garden itself was, in many ways, a character in the play, offering unique seasons of comfort, distraction, or purpose, depending on its gardener’s needs. Above all, the garden stood as a witness, filling the very role that daughter Cassandra values so highly and strives to achieve with her documentary work.
Charlayne Woodard and Caroline Stefanie Clay both excel in their roles in this two-person cast. Clay embodies both the heart of an elder and a mother. Whether she was lecturing or scolding, expressing anger and resentment, or overwhelmed with loving concern, Clay uses both her speech patterns and her gestures to add the right emphasis and intention to every moment, be it for humor or pathos.
Woodard is equally able, finding the balance between portraying her numerous frustrations and disappointments with her mother while still showing us her love and longing for the woman who she struggles to understand. Woodard is sometimes soft and gentle with her mother and at other times lost in a fit of giggles. Her wide variety of emotional tones truly captures the complexities of family dynamics, where anger and silliness and fond memories and bitter ones all intersect in an overgrown mess.
By the conclusion of the play, the ladies have performed a thorough weeding of their relationship. Despite the play’s bittersweet ending, I was left feeling content. I highly recommend “The Garden” at Baltimore Center Stage as a thoughtfully crafted and intricately nuanced masterpiece exploring the ways that a family can grow apart but, with a little tending, find themselves replanted in each other’s hearts.
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.
Advisory: Certain topics may be triggering for some viewers. A synopsis with full content warnings, including spoilers, is available on the Baltimore Center Stage website.
“The Garden” is presented by Baltimore Center Stage and streams through July 18, 2021. For more information, click here.