Our Dad is in Atlantis
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
April 8, 2008
One of the hardest mountains that a production company can climb is to premiere an English translation. Inevitably, nuances that the playwright may or may not have intended get adjusted, misinterpreted, or just flat-out lost. In Our Dad Is In Atlantis, the variable difficulty is further multiplied by having two young brothers as the only characters in the whole play. This sensitive script by Mexican playwright Javier Malpica, translated into English by Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, is obviously well-intentioned and designed to pull at the audience's heartstrings. Unfortunately, the obstacles for Our Dad Is In Atlantis do prove to be a bit too daunting for the team as directed by Debbie Saivetz, despite the piece's nice moments.
Running at a crisp 70 minutes with no intermission, Our Dad Is In Atlantis sets us up with two brothers in Mexico, played by Sergio Ferreira (Little Brother) and Steven D. Garcia (Big Brother). Their mother has passed away, and the piece opens with the two of them sitting on a bus on their way to their grandmother's house to live, because their father is going away for awhile. Through the course of the plot we follow the boys from the school playground to the convenience store they work in, to their grandmother's basement and then their grandmother's wake. Eventually the brothers realize that their father has gone away not to Atlantis, but to the United States, and they dream about what it's like there and what their father is doing in America.
The scenes break down based on a variety of "stuff"-related topics—"stuff about men," "stuff about gringos," "stuff about heaven"—and some of these scenes are more effective than others at conveying the emotion. No doubt that the translation itself is quite a challenge—Spanish has always seemed more lyrical to the ear than English. And dreamlike plays seem to be a hallmark of Hispanic theater. If Saivetz were able to create a clearer concept of the work's magical realism, Our Dad Is In Atlantis might ascend higher than it does. But the results are up-and-down, with the actors (playing their own age, and having no adult presence onstage to lead them) clearly resonating more with some scenes than others.
As for the two actors, Ferreira certainly has a bright future ahead of him as a little charmer. Garcia had some nice moments when he tries to lead by example, but often came across as stiff and one-note. Kudos should particularly be handed out to the gorgeous lighting design by Jack Mehler and the stunning set design by Mikiko Suzuki—they make the Mexican desert look absolutely gorgeous.
I am not fluent enough in Spanish to claim that I would appreciate Malpica's work more in his native tongue, but I feel like I would have absorbed a lot more of the drama. I wanted to feel for the boys in Our Dad Is In Atlantis because of the situation that the two virtual orphans are placed in. The heavy topics of poverty, immigration, Mexican-American relations—they are all present in the subtext but never quite hit the forefront that would make Our Dad Is In Atlantis a successfully touching piece. I feel like I only got to watch a fuzzy copy of what is very likely to be a terrific and moving piece in its original tongue.