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Chimichangas and Zoloft
Fernanda Coppel’s Chimichangas and Zoloft, an Atlantic Theater Company’s world premiere directed by Jaime Castenada, deals with more than a 40-year-old woman’s body issues. It sketches out the wide-ranging complexities of depression and sexuality on two Mexican-American families in Los Angeles. Though Coppel writes strong dialogue delivered by a capable cast, this adds up to a flawed play by a playwright worth watching.
The story picks up two weeks after Sonia has left her husband, lawyer Ricardo (Teddy Cañez) and daughter, Jackie (Carmen Zilles). For Jackie a thoughtful 15-year-old feels guilty that her having revealed her sexual identity issue to her mother is going through a hard time may have spurred her departure. Also missing Sonia' is Jackie’s best friend Penelope (Xochitl Romero), a pretty but flighty girl who, having never known her own mother has looked upon Sonia as a surrogate. While the girls spout mouthy f-words, Penelope too has a serious isssue as a result of her relationship with a junkie/boyfriend.
The girls never consider taking her problems to their fathers. Jackie's father is Ricardo, is too aloof for her to understand that he does love her. Add to the plot complications that Ricardo and Penelope's father, Alejandro (Alfred Narcisco), have their own complicated relationship. Narcisco is particularly good in portraying this finicky, frustrated man. However, it is Jackie and Penelope who stand out, demonstrating change and growth as they are forced to take charge of their lives and make choices. Agreeing that they need a mother’s shoulder, Jackie and Penelope devise a plan to lure Sonia home and it's ths decision that propels all the characters to turn toward new directions. The fathers are now forced to step up, face their own guilt, their daughters’ problems and act like parents. This brings us to the play's most emotional segments, particularly as Ricardo shows Jackie his empathetic side.
Scenes are segmented by blackouts that allow Sonia to appear and comment on her life. Zabryna Guevara invests Sonia with likeability and although she describes her depression as chronically fogging up her life, she has an earthy humor and lustiness that brings light into her dark monologues. For all the revelations, we are still left with questions. Sonia occasionally texts Jackie but until the girls’ carry out their plan, she does not seem affected by her daughter’s life. And though she was aware of Ricardo’s involvement with Alejandro we don't know if and how it contributed to years of an unhappy, sexually unfulfilling marriage and bouts of untreated clinical depression.
Lauren Helpern’s set is basic. A table and chairs moved during blackouts to serve various purposes. Jessica Wegener has a keen eye for how teens dress but it is Coppel’s sharp lingo that best colors their personalities. Director Castenada elicits enthusiasm and as much depth as possible from the actors. However, Coppel's ability to underscores the interdependency of family and friends in crisis and her snappy dialogue fail to overcome the shortcomings of plot and characterization.
If you add an “R” rating for language, homosexuality, simulation of sex acts, Chimichangas and Zoloft is little more than Lifetime Movie material and Fernanda Coppe a playwright who has yet to fulfill her promise.
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