Portland's stages have seen many adapted novels this season, and it's become apparent to me that some books do not want to be staged. Such is the case with Miracle Theatre's production of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, adapted by Karen Zacarías from Julia Alvarez's novel and directed by Antonio Sonera. In the book, Alvarez presents episodic histories of four sisters (played by Lauren Bair, Verónika Nuñez, Lara Kobrin and Nicole Virginia Accuardi) at three stages of their lives: first as adults, then as adolescent immigrants in New York and finally as children in the Dominican Republic. The inverse history lends the novel the backward-falling quality of anecdotes traded over Thanksgiving dinner, but is confusing on stage; keeping track of the girls' ages becomes a chore.
Sonera has drawn some good performances from his actors: Anthony Green's portrayal of Papi García's quiet misery makes the patriarch's tragedy (a nation lost to dictatorship, a career derailed, children who can't seem to find their way) seem more real and sad than his daughters' comparatively minor complaints. He feels solidly, believably imperfect. Also remarkable, for very different reasons, is Melik Malkasian, who dons a closetful of wigs and funny pants as a parade of self-centered assholes, each more ridiculous than the last, each unable to stand up to the sisters' lunatic resolve. He's hilarious, and sometimes inappropriately so: I don't think the episode in which an 11-year-old girl is harassed by a masturbating pervert was intended to get laughs.
Sonera fails to smooth out the script's many abrupt transitions, making for a bumpy ride that's compounded by set changes that literally drag, as the girls lug heavy, color-coded steamer trunks around the stage. Forcing them to carry their childhood baggage through life's changes may be poetically apt, but I kept wondering why the girls didn't just buy a hand truck. Indeed, blunt metaphor trauma is the production's greatest weakness: The set is painted with the scattered pages of the manuscript the play attempts to bring to life, intended, I suppose, to emphasize that Yolanda (Bair) has shaped her experience by writing it down. Instead the pages loom, reminding us that perhaps the García girls should have been left to the printed page.
El Centro Milagro, 525 SE Stark St., 236-7253, milagro.org. 7:30 pm Thursdays, 8 pm Fridays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes April 17. $16-$22.