Saturday, June 23, 2012

“Chimichangas and Zoloft” - Interesting to a Point

By Judd Hollander

The Atlantic Theater Company presents a nicely serviceable family comedy-drama in Fernanda Coppel's Chimichangas and Zoloft.  While the issues raised are both serious and at times dealt with in an amusing way, the play never really lets the audience get too close to the characters or totally under their skin to see what drives them.

In present day Los Angeles, Sonia Martinez (Zabryna Guevara), a woman who we later find out has struggled with depression all her life and is currently taking the medication Zoloft for the problem, has an internal meltdown/midlife crisis during her 40th birthday party and leaves her family to get some time, space and perspective for herself. In the meantime, her lawyer husband Ricardo (Teddy Cañez) is forced to look after their daughter Jackie (Carmen Zilles), the two not having a particularly close relationship. Also feeling the pinch of Sonia's absence is their neighbor Alejandro Lopez (Alfredo Narciso), the single father of Penelope (Xochitl Romero), Jackie's best friend. Alejandro, a bartender by trade, who used to share carpooling duties with Sonia, is now forced to assume them full time, taking the girls to and from school daily, at least until Sonia's return.

It quickly becomes apparent that Sonia is a major part of the glue holding both families together - each person missing her presence and contribution for different reasons. Alejandro because he has to carpool the kids to work every day; Penelope, because she sees Sonia as a sort of surrogate mother and talks to her about things she's not ready to share with anyone else-such as her first sexual experience with a boy and the fact she may now be pregnant. As for Jackie, who is gay, she came out to Sonia just before she left and now feels responsible for her mom's departure. Ricardo on the other hand, is taking Sonia's leaving rather stoically, as if he knows more than he's telling about the matter.

There are a lot of different storylines and elements running throughout the show; the highlights being the various interplays between the characters. One especially good scene occurs when Ricardo and Alejandro are having an intense personal bonding moment and then instantly switch into parental mode when the girls are caught in a lie, or when Alejandro and Penelope are waiting in a Planned Parenthood examination room to see if she in fact is with child.

Unfortunately, much of the play has a rather disjointed feel, focusing on one character than another, but never really delving into what makes any of them tick. For example, most of Sonia's scenes are staged as monologues separate from the rest of the story. Yet the script never presents a moment of clarity for her regarding if she's found what she's looking for or why she makes the decision she ultimately does. Additionally, since there's little interaction between Sonia and the rest of the people onstage, it sometimes feels as if one is watching two separate plays when it comes to her character.

Another problem is with the characters of Jackie and Penelope, both of whom are pretty much interchangeable, despite their different sexual preferences. Each has the "all-knowing" attitude of a teenager until confronted with things outside their spheres of experience, and both get defensive at times and both have emotional meltdowns, albeit it at different times. Whereby the other takes the opportunity to confront the one in crisis and affirm their friendship. Yet neither ever really has her own individual identity.

The best characters in the play are Alejandro and Ricardo. At first seemingly polar opposites and coming from different social/economic backgrounds, the two appear to clash like fire and water until a common bond is revealed. Cañez is good as the outwardly calm and surprisingly passionate Ricardo, while Narciso works well as the somewhat overprotective Alejandro. As he tells Penelope, "sex is like buying a motorcycle. Sure it looks cool and shiny. But at any turn you could crash into a taco truck and die." Alejandro also has a secret of his own, one he seems willing to die to protect, even though most of the other characters pretty much know what it is before the end of the play.

Jamie Castañeda's direction is okay as far as it goes, but like the play itself, needs some tightening to move things along and weave a more cohesive story than what's ultimately presented. There is a lot happening on stage, but certain questions as to why they're happening are not adequately explained and this misstep drags the story down more than once.

Sets by Lauren Helpern are nicely functional, lighting by Grant W.S. Yeager and costumes by Jessica Wegener Shay are fine.

Chimichangas and Zoloft
Written by Fernanda Coppel

Featuring: Zabryna Guevara (Sonia Martinez), Carmen Zilles (Jackie Martinez), Xochitl Romero (Penelope Lopez), Alfredo Narciso (Alejandro Lopez), Teddy Cañez (Ricardo Martinez)

Scenic Design: Lauren Helpern
Costume Design: Jessica Wegener Shay
Lighting Design: Grant W.S. Yeager
Sound Design: Broken Cord
Violence Consultant: J. David Brimmer
Dialect Coach: Doug Paulsen
Production Stage Manager: Michael Alifanz
Assistant Stage Manager: Catherine M. Lynch
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Manager: Michael Wade
Associate Artistic Director: Christian Parker
General Manager; Jamie Tyrol
Directed by: Jaime Castañeda

Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company
Atlantic Stage II
330 West 16th Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Closes: June 24, 2012

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