Artwork by Erin K. Robinson/kennedy-center.org

Teen Girls Find Strength in 'Beastgirl'

Beastgirl examines the historical, mythological, gendered, and geographic experiences of three first-generation American sisters of Dominican heritage.

“Beastgirl” opens with three teen girls teasing each other and moving with a lot of energy. They are first-generation young teen sisters with Dominican family roots. Cami, Èjì and Heketi are preparing a ritual to bring back the spirit of a family elder. It did not work the last time, so hopefully, this time, it will work.

The audience watches the sisters going back and forth on who is responsible for each part of the ritual process. Family and personal history bring out a lot of emotional dialogs in this world premiere musical running until April 22 at the REACH at the Kennedy Center.

Based on the short book “Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths” by New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo, the musical’s themes come from the author’s Dominican-American roots. The musical features a script by C. Quintana with music by Janelle Lawrence, direction by Rebecca Aparicio and choreography by Tiffany Quinn.

“Beastgirl” actresses Jenni Gil (Cami), Edima Essien (Èjì) and Mikaela Secada (Heketi) have great chemistry as we see growth in their sisterhood. Cami feels she has to reinforce that she is in charge because she is the oldest sister. As the sisters play out their positions, we see they need to improve communication among themselves.

Perhaps that is why connecting with the spirits of their ancestors has been difficult. Brittani McNeill is Egun, the ancestor the sisters do bring back successfully. Through thoughtful exchanges about the past, Egun enlightens the Dominican girls about their culture’s beginnings in Nigeria to where the future leads in America.

“There has been a lot of trauma. This musical does not shy away from what’s difficult. The sisters hit challenging topics head-on to create space for joy and healing. They are finding strength,” said Quintana, playwright for “Beastgirl,” when describing the relationship between the sisters.

The characters onstage beckon the audience to participate by clapping to rhythms and call-and-response shoutouts. Being drawn into the sisters’ desire to not wallow in moments of despair opens up awareness about what Dominicans encountered when coming to America.

“The audience has to trust so they know we’re trying to build between all of us in this ritual,” said “Beastgirl” composer Lawrence.

“Beastgirl” is for young audiences ages 12 years and older. The Kennedy Center and the musical’s creative team have proactively brought young audiences from D.C.-area schools and New York to see the musical.

“This is a piece about Afro-Latinas, about Dominican-Americans, whose important place in this country’s fabric must be celebrated,” Quintana said. “It is particularly meaningful to lift up the multitudes of our Latine ancestry and the sisters’ voices.”

“Beastgirl” will run at the Kennedy Center until April 22. Tickets are available on the Kennedy Center website at https://www.kennedy-center.org. Click here to view a trailer.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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