If there was ever an argument to be made about the value of live theater after more than 18 months of dark stages and streaming shows, “The Garden” is the best proof of that.

For 90 magical minutes on Sunday, the La Jolla Playhouse season opening world premiere of Charlayne Woodard’s play suspended audiences in utter silence. Theatergoers leaned forward in their seats to catch every word, audibly gasped at several story reveals, and leaped up to applaud before the cast stepped out for their curtsey.

Woodard, who co-stars with actress Stephanie Berry in the touching drama about the reunion of a longtime black mother and daughter, is famous for her television work, but she is naturally talented for the stage. . Turning frequently to speak to the audience surrounding the stage on three sides, Woodard has a sinewy, muscular energy, a smile you know what I’m talking about, and a golden voice with sonorous richness and musicality. which can only be enjoyed in a theater. And the sparks she creates with the fierce and formidably talented Berry are palpable.

A co-production with Baltimore Center Stage, “The Garden” was co-directed with a keen sense of timing, humor and hope by two of San Diego’s most acclaimed independent directors, Patricia McGregor and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg .

Woodard and Berry cautiously circle Rachel Hauck’s beautiful and authentic fall garden like two caged lionesses, who first try to avoid direct clashes by distracting themselves with rakes, shovels, and watering cans. For these two characters, the fertile land is their escape from pain and they are not afraid to get their hands dirty. When one of them hits a fair and free kick, the other responds with the words of acceptance: “I got this. ”

Charlayne Woodard, left, and Stephanie Berry in “The Garden” by La Jolla Playhouse.

(Rich Soublet II)

The play takes place in present-day New York, in the garden of widowed matriarch Claire Rose. While tending to her radishes and cucumbers, her daughter Cassandra unexpectedly arrives from Seattle after three years of silence. Cassandra, it seems, has come to bridge the gap that has grown between them, but their discussion – sometimes funny and sometimes deadly serious – reopens old wounds and reveals long-hidden family secrets.

Cassandra is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and lesbian who can’t forgive her mother for missing her wedding a decade ago. She also blames her mother for not showing enough gratitude for the house Cassandra bought her years ago. Claire Rose tries to avoid raising her own grievances, but she is angry at her daughter’s self-centeredness, her arrogant personality, and her lack of understanding of the things that really matter to her.

To say too much about this expertly designed piece would spoil its twists, but one thing can be said. Claire Rose hid from her daughter the trauma she experienced during her childhood in the South. She hoped that protecting Cassandra from family history would give her daughter more confidence and pride as a black girl growing up in the more progressive North. Instead, it made Cassandra blind to her mother’s motives and also vulnerable to the evils of the world.

The production features a stunning lighting design by UC San Diego graduate Sherrice Mojgani, costumes by Karen Perry, sound by Luqman Brown, and original music by Kirsten Childs. For San Diego theatergoers hungry for the privacy and energy of live theater, this show is for you.

‘The garden’

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; 7 p.m. on Sundays. Until October 17.

Or: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla.

COVID protocol: Ticket buyers must present photo ID and full proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR test performed within 48 hours of performance. Masks are mandatory for everyone inside.

Tickets: $ 25 and more

Telephone: 858-550-1010

In line: lajollaplayhouse.org