Watching "The Prince of Atlantis," Steven Drukman's new play now making its world premiere engagement at South Coast Repertory, is like enjoying two productions simultaneously — a broad comedy and a serious drama, which occasionally overlap.
The comic aspect is rich and robust, while the more serious segment offers some thoughtful interchange between two men who might, or might not, be father and son interacting for the first time. Both elements are engaging under the direction of Warner Shook.
Atlantis, in Drukman's concoction, is a rather large fish importing company whose president, one Joey Colletti, currently is serving time in a Massachusetts prison for mislabeling his products, leading to some serious health issues. He has nine more months to go when he discovers he may have a son, now 30, whom he's never seen.
He'd like to connect with the lad, but not until he's released, so he enlists his slow-witted brother, Kevin, to intercede for him. Meanwhile his girlfriend, Connie, is offering another kind of pressure: her biological clock is ticking and she wants to produce an heir, a prince, to eventually become the king fish of the operation.
All this action is set in a section of Massachusetts, where the natives have their own language — so much so that SCR's program includes a glossary. Trouble is, playgoers are hard pressed to consult it every time a strange word crops up — which is frequently. So it's sort of like watching a foreign movie without the benefit of subtitles.
Two actors who excel at making their point, even with weird words, are John Kapelos as the incarcerated Joey and familiar SCR actress Nike Doukas as his tough-talking but tender-hearted sweetheart. Kapelos comes off particularly strong as the family patriarch, ruling with will and volume, if not a physical presence, and reveling in his bullying personality.
Doukas flirts with caricature as the brash lady friend, but underscores her heavily accented portrayal with a warmth that surfaces when she least anticipates such feeling. She's one-fourth of the cast projecting three-fourths of the character-driven comedy.
As the hapless brother, chafing in Joey's shadow, Matthew Arkin uncovers a more reserved sort of humanity, quietly advancing the playwright's circuitous scenario. His is the central story line, overshadowed as it is by Kapelos' and Doukas' high-decibel bluster.
Into this strange world and its even stranger language comes Brett Ryback as the young man who might be related to the brothers. Ryback deftly underplays his character as he ferrets out the truth of his parentage, though his interaction with Arkin often is labored and filled with the proverbial pregnant pauses.
Thomas Buderwitz's dual scenic design — the stark prison visitors' area and Joey's elaborately garish "fishy" abode — is first rate and offers effective contrast in style. The residential area is particularly detailed with faux finny creatures and other marine life in abundance.
Angela Balogh Calin's costumes work well for the story, especially Doukas' brief outfits. Peter Maradudin has created some innovative lighting effects that offer a smooth bridge between scenes as the locations shift.
Despite dialect coach Philip D. Thompson's best efforts, the colorful language of "The Prince of Atlantis" is awkward and tends to retard the action, rendering the play somewhat self-conscious and ineffectual.
The performances are strong, but striving for authenticity eventually compromises enjoyment of this world premiere at South Coast Repertory.
TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Prince of Atlantis"
Where: Segerstrom Stage, South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until April 29.
Cost: $20 to $68
Call: (714) 708-5555Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun