Steven D. Garcia and Sergio Ferreira
in Our Dad Is in Atlantis
(© Carel DiGrappa)
Steven D. Garcia and Sergio Ferreira
in Our Dad Is in Atlantis
(© Carel DiGrappa)
Javier Malpica's Our Dad Is in Atlantis, now playing at Theatres at 45 Bleecker, is undeniably timely. Unfortunately, the play, which explores how and why two pre-teen Mexican boys attempt to sneak over the border into the United States, suffers from a certain simplicity in its storytelling. As a result, what could have been a pungent and emotional two-hander seems merely like a charming after-school special presented onstage.

During the 10 vignette-like scenes that make up the play -- staged too straightforwardly by director Debbie Saivetz -- we follow Little Brother (Sergio Ferriera) and Big Brother (Steven D. Garcia) from the day that their father, who's leaving Mexico to find work in America, deposits them with their stern disciplinarian grandmother. Soon, they find that they're considered unwelcome hooligans from the big city by their rural schoolmates, making their longing for their father and deceased mother all the more acute. When their grandmother dies, the two are sent to live with an uncle, who forces them to live an almost Dickensian existence working in his store, and forcing them to abandon their education.

The boys eventually learn of their father's whereabouts from a letter that the younger boy pilfers from his grandmother's bedroom. Initially, he misinterprets "Atlanta" as "Atlantis," but once he knows where his dad really is, he dreams of America and a life in Major League Baseball. Even though his older brother is aware that fame and fortune won't await them in the U.S., the two do eventually set out for America.

But we never see them get there. Malpica ends his play on the boys' first night somewhere on the border -- which is perhaps the beginning, or maybe the end, of their adventure in search of their dad. Although the play's final moments should leave audiences shaken -- and contemplating the complexities of the plight of all illegal aliens -- we leave strangely unmoved.

This lack of emotional involvement, however, cannot be laid at the feet of the lovely and exceedingly unassuming performances delivered by Ferreira and Garcia. Neither of the young men push for laughs or ask for our sympathy, even when the boys are at their most vulnerable. Equally impressive is the contribution of Mikiko Suzuki McAdams, who evokes the rough and expansive terrain of rural Mexico in her stunning scenic design, while the handsome lighting design by Jack Mehler can make this environment seem both blisteringly warm and bone-chillingly cold.

In the end, it's a pity that such a potentially provocative and touching story should elicit a similar coolness.