Teddy Canez, Xochitl Romero, and Carmen Zilles in CHIMICHANGAS AND ZOLOFT.
BOTTOM LINE: An evocative script combined with excellent performances makes this an engrossing production.
The play Chimichangas and Zoloft includes a pivotal scene between a father and his daughter in which the father bitterly informs the daughter that "sexuality is the cruelest thing God ever created." Sexuality, indeed, does seem to be the destructive force at the heart of the play, turning everyone and everything upside down as the characters discover their own sexualities and the sexual secrets of those around them.
Penelope (Xochitl Romero) and Jackie (Carmen Ziles) are two sixteen year old girls in Los Angeles dealing with their blossoming sexualities. Penelope has just lost her virginity to the local drug dealer who supplies the girls with crummy weed, and her suspicion that she might be pregnant has already shown her the harsh price to pay for giving into her sexual desires so carelessly. Jackie meanwhile, is questioning her sexuality and just told her mother that she may in fact be a lesbian.
To complicate things further, Jackie's mother Sonia (Zabryna Guevara), who also serves as a mother figure to motherless Penelope, has vanished to an unknown location, trying to quell her depression with doses of Zoloft and heaping plates of chimichangas. Her precise reason for leaving is unclear, though her dissatisfaction and confusion towards life seems to have escalated due to a suspicion that her husband, Ricardo (Teddy Canez), may be having an affair with Penelope's dad Alejandro (Alfredo Narciso). Alejandro and Ricardo are indeed having an affair, using their carpool as chance to be together. The straight-identified men seem to be in denial about their sexuality, refusing to fully explore the question of whether they may in fact be gay. "It's just sex," Alejandro reasons. "Mind blowing sex." Ricardo's attempt to discuss the relationship as being about more than sex leads to an argument in which Alejandro reveals that he fears that living as a gay man would be selfish as it would tear apart their families. Despite a title referring specifically to Sonia's depression remedies, she is away for most of the play, though her character intersperses sad monologues with the drama ensuing back at her home.
Part of the appeal of Chimichangas and Zoloft lies in the dialogue which manages to make the play's many dramatic turns feel believable. The two teenagers speak in affected slang, that sounds authentic despite sometimes clouding such essential truths as Jackie's sexuality. The girls' discussions of their blossoming sexualities and struggles to find themselves also ring true. The cast also gives strong performances in this production, particularily Alfredo Narciso who manages to make his character's dramatic turns and emotional outbursts seem believable, whereas it might have seemed over the top in lesser hands.
The story here is both a provocative and an engrossing one. However, the conflicts at the heart of Sonia and Ricardo's marriage could have been explored at greater length or been better resolved. Nevertheless, the play shows the toll hidden sexual truths can take on a family and on friendships, as well as the struggles one faces as they discover their true sexuality, be they sixteen or forty years old.
(Chimichangas and Zoloft plays at Atlantic Theater Company, 330 West 16th Street, through June 24, 2012. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30PM; Wednesdays at 7:30PM; Thursdays at 7:30PM; Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2:30PM. Tickets are $45 and are available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200. For more show info visit atlantictheater.org.)