to as a “word-for-word” or “page-to-stage” dramatization, it takes some getting used to as literally every word on the written page -every word- is spoken.
It’s the approach director John Shillington and the SRJC Theatre Arts Department take to tell the story of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Two chapters are taken from the 1991 novel by Julia Alvarez and given the page-to-stage treatment.
Alvarez’s novel is a collection of stories told from the perspectives of the four Garcia sisters about the challenges they faced as emigrants from the Dominican Republic. It covers thirty years in the family’s life, from their childhood on the Caribbean island to their adult lives as emigrants to the United States. Two of the chapters are performed.
“Floor Show” tells the tale of the family’s big night out courtesy the largess of a well-to-do American friend. It’s told by Sandi (played by Jasmine Flores-Nunez), the youngest of the four sisters and features the Garcia parents. Papi (Khalid Shayota) is having difficulty getting his license to practice medicine approved while Mami (Jisaela Tenney) is trying to raise her four girls properly in a foreign land. They are preparing to go out for a fancy meal at the invitation of Dr. and Mrs. Fanning, a couple they met back in the Dominican Republic. Mami is very clear as to what she expects from her girls (she will order their modest meals, they will like everything they eat) and Papi is somewhat ashamed at what he sees as charity. Several things happen over the course of what should be a pleasant evening that reinforce the family’s feelings of displacement.
“The Rudy Elmhurst Story” is told by Yolanda (played by Aaronne Louis-Charles, Annelise Hermsen, and Katerina Flores as the character at various ages), the third-oldest of the sisters. It’s the late 1960’s, the sexual revolution is well underway and she’s away at school. On her first day of English class, she draws the attention of one Rudy Brodermann Elmenhurst III (Riley Craig). They are soon an “item” but the conflict between Rudy’s liberal take on sex (“Can’t it just be fun”?) and the mix of Yolanda’s Old-World upbringing with the fragmentation of identity that comes with assimilation leads him to leave her and her to believe that she “would never find someone who would understand my particular mix of Catholicism and agnosticism, Hispanic and American styles.” There’s a bittersweet, but empowering ending to the story.
Shillington and his diverse cast are good storytellers. They’re housed in Newman Auditorium where the use of technical elements is limited, but designer Andrew Moore manages enough lighting to give the show a more theatrical feel to it than the lecture hall environment usually allows.
The (mostly) young multi-cultural cast are the perfect vehicles to tell stories that must resonate with many of them. High school student Jasmine Flores-Nunez perfectly captures the petulant behavior of the even younger Sandi, and the actresses playing Yolanda give a real sense as to the character’s internal conflicts and maturation. There’s good work by the young ensemble throughout the piece.
While the stories focus on the girls, the challenges faced by their parents are not ignored. The difficulties in having to start over after leaving a good life are well played by Shayota and Tenney.
The combination of the unique presentational style of interesting stories with a diverse, vibrant cast makes the SRJC production of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents well-worth checking out during its limited run.
‘How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents’ runs Wednesday through Sunday through October 14 in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium. Wednesday–Saturday, 8pm; Saturday & Sunday, 2pm.
There’s more at theatrearts.santarosa.edu