Chimichangas and Zoloft
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 6, 2012
There is a lot to digest in Chimichangas and Zoloft, an ambitious and ultimately frustrating new play by Fernanda Coppel at Atlantic Stage 2; perhaps too much. In this family dramedy, directed by Jamie Castaneda, Coppel explores such topics as teen pregnancy, secret love affairs, father-and-daughter relationships, addiction, acceptance and rejection of homosexuality, and crippling depression. I’m all for 80-minute plays, but for the piece itself to live up to the potential of Coppel’s voice, and for it to work as dramatic literature, a lot more is needed to fill in the blanks.
Part of the problem is that there are three major storylines, and each character has too much—and simultaneously not enough—going on. The first focuses on the longtime friendship of Penelope and Jackie (Xochitl Romero and Carmen Zilles), a pair of teenagers discovering their sexuality for the first time. Motherless Penelope has recently started having unprotected sex with her drug dealer boyfriend (you can guess where this leads). Jackie, on the other hand, has recently come out as lesbian, and is confused as to whether or not this is the reason why her mother Sonia (Zabryna Guevara) abruptly flew the coop the next morning.
The next strand explores the relationships of their fathers, Alejandro (Alfredo Narciso) and Ricardo (Teddy Canez). The former has devoted his entirely life to raising Penelope, while the latter buries himself in his career and has a distant relationship with his daughter Jackie. While initially giving off the aura that they detest one another, we quickly learn that there’s more to Alejando and Ricardo’s relationship than meets the eye.
Finally we have Sonia, who has recently left for an indeterminate amount of time and for an indeterminate reason. We learn little about Sonia over the course of the play, except that she’s depressed, eats a lot of chimichangas, and has maybe attempted suicide in the past. But in Sonia, we get a series of direct address monologues about her internal pain and struggle that showcase Coppel’s truly theatrical voice, beautifully delivered by Guevara.
In fact, Coppel’s exciting voice shines throughout Chimichangas and Zoloft. Her dialogue often rings true and crackles with comic energy. At times, she even throws some well-worn dramatic tropes on their heads. For example, Penelope is a young woman being raised by her father, with no clue who her mother is (as opposed to the other way around). And while a family play is a family play, this one stands out because, much like Katori Hall’s Hurt Village, it showcases people who don’t get showcased very often by prominent New York companies.
The company members do their best to make the piece coalesce, and some succeed better than others, particularly the brooding Canez, who manages to convey a surprising amount of feeling into a series of downcast glares. The usually reliable Narciso has a hard time making his character’s intentions seems realistic, but that’s less of his problem than it is Coppel’s, who doesn’t seem to know. Still, his sympathetic performance makes a character that could very easily be hated palatable. Romero and Zilles are endearing as Penelope and Jackie, believable as long-standing BFFs, though distinctly unbelievable as teenagers (which in real life, they aren’t).
Chimichangs and Zoloft could probably benefit from another rewrite or two. With too much to take in and not enough exploring done, it’s a promising work that just feels unfinished. I wanted more—and I hope one day I get to see it.