Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our Dad is in Atlantis

Photo/Carel DiGrappa

There’s something admirable about the way Working Theater has extended their usual focus on the working class in order to look at two of the children left behind by an illegal immigrant. But you can’t admire a concept: their execution of Javier Malpica’s Our Dad is in Atlantis sinks from a lack of imagination. Jorge Ignacio Cortinas’s translation is flat and repetitious (he wrote far better in his own Blind Mouth Singing), Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’s set is a bland reddish lump of rubberized gravel, and Debbie Saivetz’s direction is slow and restrained. Even the actors – ten-year-old Sergio Ferriera (Little Brother) and twelve-year-old Steven D. Garcia (Older Brother) – seem uncomfortable: they lack a sense of play. There’s the occasional squeal from Ferriera and the momentary flash of a hard, steely presence in Garcia, but most of the play seems like a forced march through a desert.

That’s because Our Dad is in Atlantis is forced: at heart, it’s just a play about stuff. (Each scene is even labeled as such: “Stuff about the Countryside” and “Stuff About Terror” are the first two scenes.) All the drama takes place off stage – their father’s departure, their mother’s death – and the scenes just reinforce what the first scene establishes: that Older Brother must look out for Younger Brother. It’s less a play than a series of vignettes about brotherly affection – like something out of Junot Diaz’s Drown, only with less style and considerably less energy.
Our Dad is in Atlantis would greatly benefit from a sense of perspective. It’s hard to feel sad when their grandmother’s dies, for neither child ever grieves; it’s hard to believe that a bully drove a nail through Older Brother’s shoulder, for there’s so little physicality in the play; and it’s hard to understand what would drive these two children to cross the desert on their own when neither one shows any initiative. (At one point, Ferreira accidentally fell out of his chair. It was the most exciting moment of the play.) Without another character to shake things up, it’s just seventy minutes of the same old, same old.

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