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Chimichangas and Zoloft

This new play about two interconnected Mexican-American families ambitiously grapples with some serious issues but ultimately feels both contrived and slight.

By New York City
Carmen Zilles and Xochitl Romero
in Chimichangas and Zoloft
(© Ahron Foster)
Carmen Zilles and Xochitl Romero
in Chimichangas and Zoloft
(© Ahron Foster)
I can't personally attest to whatever takes place if one simultaneously ingests Mexican food and anti-depressants, but I suspect the result may be more easily digestible than Fernanda Coppel's semi-contrived, decidedly overstuffed, yet ultimately slight family drama, Chimichangas and Zoloft, now at the Atlantic Stage Two under Jaime Castaneda's often effortful direction.

To their credit, a cast of five do their best to pull this somewhat ambitious work into a coherent whole, but Coppel too often thwarts them by giving her characters and situations surprisingly short shift. (As much as I love 85-minute plays, Coppel probably needs to expand the piece to fill in some of the blanks.)

Her focus is on two interconnected Mexican-American families in Los Angeles: teenagers Jackie (Carmen Ziles) and Penelope (Xochitl Romero), are long-time BFFs, a situation that has remained intact even though Jackie has declared herself a lesbian (albeit before having sex with anyone of either gender) and Penelope is now sexually involved with her pot-dealing boyfriend John.

Their respective fathers, Ricardo (an effective Teddy Canez), a successful lawyer, and Alejandro (Alfredo Narciso), a bartender and single dad, appear -- as we first see them together -- to dislike each other intensely. But as it happens, opposites attract: the pair are involved in a steamy sexual (and in its own way, romantic) affair, which makes their complicated lives even trickier.

Moreover, Ricardo's wife Sonia (Zabryna Guevara) has abandoned the family -- albeit temporarily. Her unexplained absence proves equally upsetting to Penelope, who has always seen Sonia as a surrogate mom, and Alejandro, who is visibly annoyed that he no longer has someone to share carpool duties -- and who perhaps has other reasons for missing Sonia. (The depth of the pair's relationship is never fully explained, one of the many issues Coppel needs to resolve.)

To her credit, Coppel is clearly interested in exploring the issue of identity -- ethnic, sexual, societal, and familial. Particularly noteworthy is Alejandro's unwillingness to accept his sexuality and his anger at the way his bar customers perceive him -- Narciso does a very fine job of taking a potentially unlikeable character and providing the right amount of empathy -- while Ricardo and Jackie are far more comfortable in their own literal and figural skins.

Moreover, the dialogue often rings true, even if hearing two girls say the word "dude" to each other dozens of time in three minutes can be annoying. What does undercut their veracity, however, is that Ziles and Romero are clearly too mature to be fully believable as quasi-naive teenagers. (The actresses are both in their 20s.) One can imagine how much more effective a pivotal scene in a doctor's waiting room would be if Narciso and Romero really felt like father and daughter, instead of almost husband and wife.

Conversely, one can hear Coppel's authorial voice in the series of beautifully articulate and shaped monologues that are expertly delivered by Guevara (who never interacts with the other characters). Since we know almost nothing about Sonia -- other than she's 40, depressed, and eats chimichangas (hence the show's title) -- one can't tell how authentic these speeches really are. Much like a chimichanga (or zoloft), her words may be nothing more than pure invention.


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