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On Theater: Subtitles would help 'Prince of Atlantis'

April 19, 2012|By Tom Titus

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.

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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.

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