There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Round House’s world premiere production of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents casts its lot with the breezier, more broadly comic tones of the 1991 Julia Alvarez novel on which it is based, and I can’t say as I blame it. Not that Karen Zacarias’ script gives short shrift to the novel’s darker themes of patriarchal repression and cultural alienation, exactly. It’s just that director Blake Robinson believes—rightly, as it turns out—that a light touch serves his purpose better than a heavy hand. It helps that his actors possess the comic chops to fold the tale’s heavier elements into their performances without letting them weigh the evening down. Take Bryant Mason, who plays just about every male character the four Garcia sisters encounter—men who lean, as a species, toward boorish macho superdickery. A too-literal take on these roles would get awfully tiresome awfully quickly—we’d feel the writer’s finger in our chests, and the play would devolve into a women’s studies symposium. But Mason brings a jovial swagger that playfully points up these men’s cartoonish excesses. Broad, yes, but fittingly so, and in keeping with the free-flowing comic energy his fellow actors serve up. Collectively, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, Maggie Bofill, Sheila Tapia, and Veronica del Cerro do smart, effortless work establishing a sisterly bond that exists at the nexus of affection and exasperation. That’s probably why the production’s at its most alive when all four sisters share the stage. Too often, isolating one Garcia girl means devolving into cliché—an extended scene in which Fernandez-Coffey’s Yolanda has difficulty saying the words “I love you,” for example. At such moments, the evening’s brisk pacing slows, allowing us to get too clear a look at the thinness of these characterizations. Like Alvarez’s novel, Garcia Girls moves backward in time; we open on the sisters in middle age and watch them grow steadily younger. That means lots of costume changes, most of which occur onstage, backed by era-appropriate tunes and some simple but charming choreography by Karma Camp. The script demands that each of the four principals remains swathed in a signature color throughout, but costumer Kate Turner-Walker has a lot of inventive fun with that. Garcia Girls doesn’t yet take full thematic advantage of its reverse-chronology gimmick and too flatly asserts the connections it wants us to make between the girls’ younger selves and the women we see in the play’s opening minutes. But telling the tale in reverse means that Zacarias doesn’t have to push her ending too hard, and she knows it: When we spend the evening watching a lifetime’s worth of accumulated doubts and heartaches lifting off these women, year by year, poignancy comes factory-installed.