There will be as many dysfunctional-American-family plays as there are combinations of dysfunctions and therapeutic prescriptions for them. The domestic problems may change from one script to the next, but a careful balance of hurt and humor, followed by grudging recognitions and keeping-it-real healing, often seem to transfer automatically.
Chimichangas and Zoloft, a new play by Fernanda Coppel now at the Atlantic Theater, brims with psychological issues. Every character gets one of them to address in the narrative arc, and they spiral and resolve on schedule. Sonia Martinez (Zabryna Guevara) has hit a major depression following her fortieth birthday and abruptly leaves her family to recover in an unknown location. Her 15-year-old daughter, Jackie (Carmen Zilles), struggles to acknowledge her sexuality, while Jackie’s best friend, Penelope (Xochitl Romero), deals with the unforeseen consequences of sleeping with her drug-dealing boyfriend. Meanwhile, their fathers, the high-strung Alejandro (Alfredo Narciso) and stony Ricardo (Teddy Cañez), wrestle with their own shared secret.
A Latino inflection gives Chimichangas one variation on the usual themes: The Lopez and Martinez families live in today’s Los Angeles—though except for a few details and a line or two about racism, their problems are not culturally specific.
Coppel organizes things around a big-hearted but familiar idea: The teenagers possess emotional wisdom and levelheadedness beyond their years, while the adults find themselves still struggling for self-knowledge in middle age. Director Jaime Castañeda and his cast invest all they can, but this study in generational contrasts doesn’t deliver the unsettling emotional impact it might. Like many domestic dramatists, Coppel prefers a soft landing, stressing hugs, and reconciliation.