As the scenes with their complex subplots unwind throughout the Stageworks production of "How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," we can't help but notice the suitcases. These props appear randomly with the characters throughout the show, so they must mean something important. But what? In this case, multiple things. They are metaphors for the life's journey of Yolanda, Sofia, Sandra, Carla and their parents as they immigrate from the Dominican Republic to the United States. They also stand for the baggage each character acquired as they were chased from their home into a new world none of them could have imagined as young, innocent girls. And lastly, the suitcases can stand for the people we all eventually become. How did the Garcia girls lose their accents? Why, from life and its impossible expectations, of course.
That's the gist of an entertaining stage interpretation of Julia Alvarez's 1991 novel by the same name. Co-directors Anna Brennen and Caroline Jett (who also plays the mother) set a mood in the two-act production turns on a dime, from moments of hilarity to sudden, profound tension. It bursts from frivolity to poignancy. And in the end, perhaps we all see snapshots of ourselves in the diversity of the individuals finding their places in a sometimes-fractured family unit. The narrative is told in reverse, from end to beginning. The girls speak perfect English at the start, then gradually revert deeper into their native tongue. That tactic helps us learn the foundation of each individual as we grasp how they became what they are - good and bad. That plays particularly well in the intimate setting of the Stageworks theater. That connection with the audience could get swallowed on a bigger stage, but instead, we feel drawn into the family inner circle - helped by the spare but effective kitchen-table set designed by Greg Bierce. We are introduced to four adult daughters - two divorced, one still single, and one married (horrors!) to a German. Her father, played by Petrus Antonius, really doesn't like that. Her mother tries to run interference - not always successfully. We learn that Yolanda, interpreted skillfully by Jessy Quiñones, is a gifted writer who has lost the drive to write. Carla (played by Isabel Natera) is compelling as the rebel in the group, possibly shaped by horrific middle school experiences. Georgia Mallory, who portrayed Sandra, shows us a complex, tortured artist, appropriately dressed in blue. She once brags, "I am the virgin - I am so beautiful," but she can't escape her inner demons. Two of my favorite performances came from Marlene Peralta and Cornelio Aguilero - she played the sassy Sofia with humor, grace and range, while Aguilero's scene as a horny, manipulative skirt-chaser from the 1960s was a hilarious (and raunchy) highlight. While we may not have fled the Dominican Republic to escape a repressive regime like the Garcia girls were forced to do, the themes throughout this production should resonate with everyone. We all search for identity, a sense of place and purpose, and a way to fit in. We make mistakes. We deal with stress. The world can sometimes be unforgiving, but the journey, no matter what we're packing, is worth it. Even if we lose our accents along the way, we leave the play knowing the only thing that really matters is our name. The name endures.