One set and four suitcases are all that a seven-person cast needs at Round House Theater in Bethesda to perform “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” a show that Round House bills as “a sexy, sensual and wildly theatrical adaptation.”
At first glance, “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” is a humorous and uplifting story about four sisters abruptly moved from their home in the Dominican Republic to the United States. The girls’ dark and almost scarring backgrounds, though, give the humor in the play an almost inappropriate stance and dampens the wildness of the theatricality.
From the very beginning of the play, the girl’s father has one single request for his birthday celebration: “NO MEN!” This seems fitting for the rest of the play, as each of the girls has an issue with men. Men play pivotal roles in the drama and darkness of each Garcia sister’s past. This does not stem from their relationship with their father but with the uncomfortable relationships that spawn from odd interactions with other men in their lives.
The play opens with Yolanda, the writer or “poeta” of the Garcia girls. The story of her three sisters is told from her point of view. Once the other cast members join Yolanda - also called Joe - played by Gabriela Fernandez-Coffley, the size of the cast becomes apparent. Five women and two men make up the total seven members of the cast. Bryant Mason, the extra, took on more than nine roles throughout the two-hour performance, filling out the narrative of the Garcia Girls’ story. Mason was astonishingly versatile, and completely unrepresentative of a character he played less than ten minutes before.
Mason is sometimes forced to take on some unpopular roles, including ‘60s stud Rudy Elmhurst, Joe’s ex-husband, Fifi’s island love and a sexual harasser. Mason’s characters are the cause for the scarring pasts that alter the lives of the Garcia sisters. This drama was surprising; the other half of the play was so comical. The fact that these fictional characters are still standing at the end of the performance is impressive and touching, but almost unbelievable.
The play is organized in a unique manner. In a note featured in the program from the Producing Artistic Director Blake Robison, she writes about the reverse chronology. “We travel backwards in time from 1990 to 1959 ... characters and events come into sharper focus bit by bit,” Robison wrote. As the play continues, the four girls “grow younger” and their accents display this trait. At the beginning their accents are muted but the last scene is done entirely in Spanish.
The staff claims that you are sure to understand the last scene - the word “poeta” means “poet” in English. Although to fully grasp the complexity of the scene and to understand the nonverbal actions, knowledge of minimal Spanish wouldn’t hurt.
The humor in the show is supplied by the awkwardness of their adaptation to the new culture they are immersed in. When the four girls, differing in age by approximately five years, reach adolescence, their mother complains that they have been eating in their rooms again. When Mr. Garcia asked what they were eating, one of the sisters claims “oregano,” which is of course not oregano at all. They encounter the same mishaps with drugs as normal adolescents, but the interaction between the troublemaking sisters and their parents spawns humor throughout the play. This is also apparent when the Garcia sisters think they are being hit with a nuclear bomb when in actuality, they are seeing snow for the first time.
The world premiere of the play by Karen Zacarías, based off the novel by Julia Alvarez, was performed at the Round House Theater in Bethesda. Tickets range from $25 to $60, and can be bought at http://www.roundhousetheater.org. “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” will be performed until October 12.