RACINE — As the Racine Theatre Guild’s managing and artistic director, Doug Instenes has overseen a lot of shows, including dramas and musicals.
But his favorite genre is comedy, like his latest production, "Native Gardens," which wraps up its three-week run at the theater.
This show, about neighbors who get into an all-out war over their yards, is a certain type of comedy he especially enjoys.
"My favorite type of show is one that is very funny but also makes you think," he said. "I like a show that people can discuss after they leave the theater, with each taking away something slightly different. 'Native Gardens' does that perfectly."
Everyone on the play-reading committee the chose this show, he said, "came away with something slightly different. I think over the last few years, society has become very polarized with many people taking an 'us vs. them' attitude. The line 'you people' is used a few times, and everyone makes unfair assumptions about the others.
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"Both sides feel they have been wronged and are not understood," he added. "In the playwright's attempt to show that we are more similar than different, she takes a shot at everyone. Again, in a very comedic way. Young vs. old, women vs. men, Republican vs. Democrats, 'the Man' vs. 'up and comers' -- all wrapped up in debate about natural vs. invasive gardening."
While Instenes is directing this show that pits a couple with an award-winning garden against a pair with "a barren backyard," Instenes himself makes no claim to having a green thumb.
"My wife and I have killed numerous plants, and I can barely get my lawn mowed," he said. "I prefer a nice rock garden. To be honest, I really don't know where my back property line ends. We have a no-man's land that if my neighbor wants to use it, more power to him. It's less for me to mow."
This show, he said, is effective at using comedy "to talk about issues that people would not feel comfortable discussing on their own. However, when those issues are addressed in silly ways, we all are willing to listen."
This show, he added, "really points out how similar we all are and that we all want the same things in life. It also asks the question 'what does native actually mean?' America is made up of so many different types of people with different backgrounds and opinions, and that is what truly makes us a strong nation -- if we learn to respect those differences."
Looking for laughs
Bottom line for the audience?
"It is a very funny show that calls everyone out," Instenes said. "It will make you laugh and think. Hopefully at the end, we will all stop using the phrase 'you people.'"
The big challenge of this show is "dividing the stage between the two homes. The Theatre Guild has a thrust stage where the audience sits on three sides of the actors. So most of the play takes place in one of the yards with a big flower garden dividing the stage. It requires some very creative movement."
Directing a comedy, he said, has one huge advantage over other genres.
"There is great joy in hearing the audience laugh at your work," Instenes said. "It has been a tough couple of years, and I'm so looking forward to hearing people laugh again. This play will allow you to forget your problems for 90 minutes or so and just have a good time. We all need that."