Archive for category Play Reviews
Every year Ashland, Oregon holds Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) that lasts from mid-February to early November. It is an incredible experience for theater lovers. I visit every year with several friends in my book club. There are three stages in close proximity and eleven plays are produced during any given theater season. These are not only Shakespeare plays. In fact, this year, we did not watch any original Shakespeare play. My friends and I watched 4 plays in 4 days we spent there. In addition to several plays going on simultaneously, the little town also has music festivals, bands, choir, other outdoor events, salsa dancing, poetry readings and more. Small town is beautiful with tons of unique shopping opportunities and incredible eateries with some of them offering seating by the riverside.
We drove from the Bay Area and spent a night at half-way point on easy 10 hour drive there. Next day we reached there early and saw one play at night and saw two more on the second day and then on the last day there we saw one play, and then started on our return journey. So we had a beautiful all girls road trip to and from the festival.
Here are the four plays we saw.
Homer’s Odyssey is a timeless classic but it is complex and it’s not always easy to keep the characters in mind. We attended pre-theater reading when we got a quick synopsis of the story. The play performed at open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre was a treat of pomp and circumstance. After a decade long war, after the defeat of the Trojans by the Greeks, all surviving fighters reached home, but not Odysseus (Christopher Donahue). Odysseus languishes on a faraway island, refuses offers of love from Calypso, battles angry Poseidon’s fury, and after 20 years reunites with his wife Penelope (Kate Hurster), who was battling suitors during his absence.. This story of Odysseus known as a “story of that man skilled in all ways of contending”, according to Bill Moyers, “changes the way we see our world and ourselves”. Kudos to Scenic Designer, Daniel Ostling and Costume Designer, Mara Bluemenfeld for incredible scenes and costumes.
Shakespeare in Love
There can’t be moviegoers who were not enthralled by the film, Shakespeare in Love. Beautiful story of young and innocent and yet deep and binding love written as a love letter to theater and theater people encompassed several contradictions beautifully. Along with cheap puns, there were Shakespearean dialogues. What’s not to love when you hear “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,. My love as deep. The more I give to thee,. The more I have, for both are infinite“? Then there was sexist politics of the time juxtaposed against the most powerful monarch in Tudor history. William DeMeritt as Shakespeare is amazing. Director, Christopher Liam Moore did an excellent job, beginning with exploration of how an artist’s mind may work when creating a brilliant work of art.
Developed and directed by Robert O’Hara, Unison brings the story and life of poet August Wilson and his poetry to stage, in a unique way. August Wilson’s work depicts comic and tragic aspects of African-American experience and has inspired a huge group of poets. When meeting at his funeral, through the stories they share, a sense of reverence they have for August Wilson, reverberates on the stage.
At times the poetry is glorious
“You know you love me, I know you care Just shout whenever, and I’ll be there You are my love, you are my heart And we would never ever ever be apart Are we an item?”
At times the poetry is frightening
“Red blood in the river, there’ll be red blood in the river”.
Off the Rails
Adapted from the work of playwright Randy Reinholz, Off the Rails tells the story of native Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Such a story would be too tragic. But instead director Bill Rauch has adapted the story as a musical and infused it with romance and humor, while also depicting the indigenous resiliency among native Americans, in the face of attempted genocide. The story is also interspersed with Shakespearean quotes like “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”. This was an excellent and heart rending play that makes one break out in laughter from time to time and yet leaves you with deep sadness.
“We are the four immigrants” thus begins entirely engaging and ravishingly gorgeous musical, at Theatreworks Silicon Valley premiere, at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre. Playwright and composer, Min Kahng adapted the theatrical production from a comic book by Henry Kiyama and tells the story of new immigrants from Japan from 52 comic strips, beginning in 1904.
Unlike the European immigrants who landed on the East coast, often fleeing religious persecution, the immigrants from Asia came for new opportunities and to realize the American dream “I’ll break the mold and make my mark”. While the immigrants from Europe encountered discrimination along the lines of poverty, new immigrants from Asia also had to deal with racial prejudice.
This musical tells a universal tale of people leaving their homeland for any number of reasons and then search to find a life and make a home in the new land. The musical speaks of such adventures of four men, Charlie (Hansel Tan), Fred (Sean Fenton), Frank (Phil Wong), and Henry (James Seol). These are four incredibly talented actors who deliver a stunning performance of riveting dances and engaging lyrics as they talk about their experiences; weaving in significant historical events like devastating San Francisco earthquake, US Government call to join the military in world war II, racial bias and Government denial to grant citizenship, even to war veterans. These men also have obligations back home and from time to time experience the guilt and shame of not rising up to expectations; for instance, when they fail to send money home in a timely manner. Search for a life partner often raises questions about areas where immigrants are tied to known customs and traditions and where these collude in their simultaneous quest to embrace the modern ways of new homeland.
Gradually, these young men in Henry Kiyama’s comic strip mature and make a life in their new homeland. They each in their own way, embraces and blends the old and the new. Whilst they began with sweeping floors and making sacrifices, they learn that not only they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work but their new homeland requires them to be engaged members in the community; standing up for and demanding their rights. They sing with satisfaction, “I know I have something remarkable to share with the world”. We also learn that motherland is never forgotten, as we hear them sing with longing, “Kurusato”.
Great kudos to Leslie Martinson for brilliant directing and casting. Four male actors are joined by Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K Carnahan, Catherine Gloria and Lindsay Hirata who play a variety of male and female roles with aplomb. Also great kudos for superb use of props and stage to Marcy Victoria Reed and Christina Larson.
As the founding director of Theatreworks, Robert Kelley has announced his retirement after 50 years of dedicated stewardship, we must acknowledge the incredibly bold and perception changing performances that have been brought to stage under his helm. Such an incredibly warm influence to counter the current cold reality of increasingly anti-global, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-diversity vibes coming from Washington D.C. True to Theatreworks’ core values, these phenomenal productions are not only fabulously entertaining, they also gently guide us to learn and be better informed, to embrace diversity and to shift our point of view to one that is more global and more inclusive.
For this theater season, I am selecting, “The Four Immigrants” running at www.theatreworks.org till August 6, 2017 a must-watch-play of this theater season. In true spirit of Silicon Valley where the production took shape, it is extremely innovative, highly entertaining, solidly engaging and brilliantly done.
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews-- Play Reviews-- NAATAK-- Poems-- Event Reports, Play Reviews on July 11, 2017
Toba Tek Singh is yet another example of NAATAK company’s efforts to bring bold and audacious plays in Indian languages or with Indian theme, on stage. Very special credits for this amazing production go to brilliant director Sujit Saraf who adapted the original story for stage, to brilliant producer who wears multiple hats, Soumya Agastya and to brilliant music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi. Based off of the original story written by Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh focuses on exchange of inmates in a Lahore asylum, after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The ensuing conflict between India and Pakistan displaced nearly 15 million people and nearly 1 million people died during the migration, leaving behind a bloody legacy. The story of Toba Tek Singh is not only a powerful satire on the events that transpired in the aftermath of the violent division but when observed through the eyes of a madman, one can’t help but feel that he was the only sane person questioning the ridiculousness of the entire situation, in a sea of complete and utter lunacy.
Performed with live music and phenomenal dances by women in colorful costumes, the lunacy of the bloody events feels even more stark. Toba Tek Singh is the largest production in Naatak’s 22 year history. It is amazing and delightful to see the huge entire cast perform their roles flawlessly. But it is the live musicians, under the leadership of Yakkundi and amazing dancers under the leadership of choreographers, Shaira Bhan and Snigdha Singh that this special story was transformed into a grand musical.
When the British left India divided and splintered, clear borders were not announced until after the division, throwing millions of people into chaos and confusion. In an immediate aftermath, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs began the trek towards India and millions of Muslims in the opposite direction towards Pakistan in the West and East. While millions and millions were displaced and left homeless, nearly a million never made it as people were massacred during migration, some were abducted and many were raped, forced into sexual slavery, and left disfigured and dismembered. But lunetics housed in the mental asylums were safe from this madness.
The story of Toba Tek Singh begins in 1948, a year after the partition, when the governments of India and Pakistan decide that the lunatics living in the mental asylums must also be exchanged so that Muslim lunatics in India may be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistan may be sent to India. One of the lunatics is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who is to be sent under police escort to India from Lahore. Bishan Singh wants to remain in a country where his home village Toba Tek Singh remains and he asks several people where Toba Tek Singh is. He is alternately told it is in India and then told it is in Pakistan. When he finally believes that his hometown Toba Tek Singh will be part of the new Pakistan, he refuses to go to India and lies down right in the middle, in the no man’s land.
When you watch the play, you somehow feel that Bishan Singh is the only man true to his feelings, unlike Naidu or Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or Mountbatten or Edwina or Godse who are all caught up in their own self serving versions and visions of the event. Each one of the other characters use multiple tactics and strategies, plot and craft to manipulate and maneuver the events to fit their vision. Bishan Singh simply wants to live in a place he has known as home because home is where the heart is and to get uprooted from homeland is like getting your heart ripped out.
Toba Tek Singh will be running in Woodside, CA till July 29, 2017. Get your tickets at www.naatak.com .
Musical comedy “The Toxic Avenger” based on Lloyd Kaufman’s film of the same name, originally derived from book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, is currently playing at The stage (www.thestage.org) in San Jose. It is a silly show tackling a serious subject and features a talented cast that performs zillion roles. Addressing the issue of climate change, the show shies away from becoming preachy or depressing. It begins with the lyrics
Global warming’s up ahead
The experts think we’ll all be dead
But they don’t know we’re here to fight
It is a story of heavily polluted New Jersey town where Melvin Ferd III (Will Springhorn Jr.) resolves to get to the bottom of the cause of pollution and is pitted against town’s greedy, power-hungry and seductive mayor Babs (Allison F. Rich) and her gang of thugs. The mayor’s for-profit corporation is the cause of town’s growing pollution but the mayor is entirely focused on growing her bottom line.
Here’s a place between heaven and hell
Don’t need a map, just follow the smell
A place filled with filthy air
A place full of dark despair
A place you have no prayer
A place called New Jersey
Jersey, the Garden State
Ther’s an exit called the thirteen gee
Right off the turnpike where it smells just like pee
An exit no one dares get off:
An exit where the children cough
When the mayor’s thugs and Melvin engage in a fight, Melvin falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a heroic green monster with superior strength. Melvin’s nagging mother (also played by talented Allison F. Rich) does not the express slightest shock and instead reiterates her disappointment with her son. Her lack of shock at the sight of her son is shocking in itself and at the same time her superb acting makes it feel like a natural response of a nagging mother to a child not rising up to his talents. It is all hilarious. Melvin also reconnects with his blind love interest, Sarah (Courtney Hatcher). Sarah does not know that it is Melvin and falls hopelessly in love with who she believes is the superhero who saved her from the town’s thugs.
He’s strong and sweet and lives with his mother,
He saved my life so there is no other.
Such a man and man is he macho
Spicy cool like a bowl of gaspacho
Someday he’s ganna be my big, my big french boyfriend!
But Sarah soon gets an opportunity to touch Melvin’s ugly and scarred face and her love abets with the same speed as it had begun to overflow. When scorned by his sweetheart, broken hearted and depressed Melvin goes from being a town hero and a legend to a town pariah. However, Sarah soon changes her mind after she gets a talking-to by Melvin’s mother who explains “If blind people don’t like ugly people, than who will” and she and Sarah’s friends make a practical point that – after all
All men are freaks
It’s a burden every woman shares as she travels down life’s roads
Superbly directed by Jonathan Rhys Williams, the play is hilariously funny and witty. Cirby Hatano’s set is eye catching wasteland with scattered drums of toxic waste. Video design by Vijay M. Rajan occasionally fills the gap in the narrative and adds fantastically funny comic touches. When the fight ensues between the hero and the thugs, blood is scattered or limbs are severed on the projected screen rather than on the set. The 80s style rock style songs are played by an onstage rock band directed by Brian Allan Hobbs.
The Toxic Avenger is produced at San Jose Stage at a critical time in our history, when depressing developments on the issue of climate change makes us feel both upset and helpless. Toxic Avenger is just the hero we need to transport us for a short while, to a place where we are not entirely helpless, and our righteous commitment enables us to find love and perfect solution for the cause of climate change. The Toxic Avenger will be playing at the Stage in San Jose until July 16, 2017 and tickets are available at www.thestage.org .
Set on an army base in Afghanistan in 2016, “The Memory Stick” by Irish playwright Donal O’Kelly, tackles some serious issues of right and wrong and moral obligation of soldiers when they see something unethical. The Memory Stick is a world premiere co-production between The Stage www.sanjosestage.org and the Arts Office of Dublin City Council, Ireland.
Two Native American soldiers Seth Shaw (John R. Lewis) and Jack Black Horse (Joseph Valdez), occasionally joined by Bridget (Lindsy Kail), begin a makeshift lodge while on an army base in Afghanistan. Each of them relive their earlier memories and share ruminations that are deeply tied to their cultural identity. One of them has recorded some illegal data onto a memory stick about army’s unethical behavior and the discussion soon veers into the realm of morality and whether or not they should publish/leak this information. The discussion weaves in many threads including systematic oppression of the Native Americans and events surrounding Wounded Knee as well as oppression of the Irish people and uprisings in Ireland. There is also a segment on Bradley/ Chelsea Manning that portrays Manning as a lonely hero.
This is an ambitious and bold play oddly reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and takes the audience into deep recesses of morality and ethics. Is the true mantra for soldiers, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die” or as soldiers in the bigger journey of life, do we all bear responsibility to question the wrong when we see it, that every person can, as Bridget quotes from James Connolly, do “his duty according to his lights”? This play is about human soul and whistle blowers and how it puts someone concerned with doing the right thing sometimes in an incredibly lonely spot. Indeed the play tackles too much and leaves the audience a bit rattled as well as unsettled. It is heavy on dialog and while that can put you to sleep at times, yet under the chaos of multiple issues are larger questions about life and morality that are guaranteed to keep you awake at night. Irish and the Welsh dialect is enjoyable and staging by Tony Kelly is sparse but perfect.
For tickets, please go to www.thestage.org .
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews-- Play Reviews-- NAATAK-- Poems-- Event Reports, Play Reviews on April 13, 2017
Stories of India inextricably linked with that of its neighbors, the collective that makes South Asia, have always been fascinating and generate universal interest. En Acte Arts company founded by Vinita Sud Belani focuses on bringing these fascinating tales on stage, with multi ethnic cast and crew. Their recent production, Soundwaves: The passion of Noor Inayat Khan told the story of Noor who was born from a union of Indian father and American mother, in January, 1914.
EnActe Arts has grown in stature and influence in the bay area. This was a bold production of telling an inspirational story with many twists and turns. The play featured a large cast and EnActe did a fabulous job. I will be watching for future plays from this theater company. For tickets, go to www.enacte.org .
Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s “Calligraphy”, currently running at www.theatreworks.org at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, directed by Leslie Martinson, is a complex family drama that tests dynamic family bonds from multiple angles.
First, there are two cousins, one American, Hiromi (Mia Tagano), daughter of Japanese mother and African American WWII veteran, Eamon (William Thomas Hodgson) and the other, Sayuri (Elizabeth Pan) are dealing with challenges of caring for their respective aging mothers with physical problems ranging from limb fracture to Alzheimer’s to emotional issues like over-dependance. Second, intermingled with these challenges are cultural issues. Third, while traditional Japanese culture is steeped in family obligations, and generational rules of etiquette mired in feelings of guilt, there is also an overlay of younger generations growing up with vastly different and sometimes Western values. Hiromi is raised by Japanese mother Noriko (Emily Kuroda) in America, albeit with Japanese values, and considers it her filial duty to take care of her mother in old age. Meanwhile her cousin Sayuri is raised by her Japanese mother Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata) in Japan. Although Natsuko raises Sayuri with strict Japanese values, colored by external influences, Sayuri rebels and pursues Western attire as well as values of independence and freedom. And finally, these cultural influences collide in interesting ways with individual personalities and temperament of the colorful characters.
When the cousins Hiromi and Sayuri plan to arrange a family reunion of sorts and bring their mothers together after the distance of several years and different continents, the cultural, generational, relational, and personality collisons occur with a noticeable bang. The two elderly sisters have been bitterly estranged over Noriko’s romance with a black GI and they have not since reconciled. Noriko was a beautiful young woman, married the love of her life, raised a responsible daughter and now afflicted with beginnings of Alzheimer’s, she often imagines the presence of her late husband, Eamon, forgets her whereabouts, but often remembers critical details of her childhood. Meanwhile Natsuko is as intolerant of her wayward daughter’s choices regarding her filial duty, marriage, sex etc. as she was of her sister’s choice of marriage, years ago. And yet despite the intolerance and the drama, Natsuko too has a certain inner strength and a vision to live life on her own terms.
Within artful strokes of “Calligraphy”, these four beautiful women with their unique version of inner strength, stamp their own signature in their world, with bold strokes of personal choices. Calligraphy is not a play about A significant event but about high emotional stakes of ordinary living and these get amplified with beautiful acting by talented cast. I love Mia Tagano in all the diverse roles I have seen her perform. Kudos to Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley for enabling ordinary life issues to take the form of art. Calligraphy will be running till March 29, 2017. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews-- Play Reviews-- NAATAK-- Poems-- Event Reports, Play Reviews on February 25, 2017
Current play “Airport Insecurity” written and directed by Vikas Dhurka is NAATAK company’s (www.naatak.org, Twitter @naatak) 56th production and features a comedic yet horrifying tale of an Indian immigrant on work visa, who loses his passport, wallet, and mobile phone at the airport, in a foreign, unfamiliar country, while in transit.
No one wants to be stuck in an indefinite limbo in transit, but Vijay (Varun Dua) has especially urgent need to return home to the US where his wife Priya (Devika Ashok) is about to deliver in what is turning out to be a high risk pregnancy. Vijay gets caught in a complex bureaucratic labyrinth where he cannot travel anywhere without a passport, US is not responsible for his “situation” since he is not a US passport holder, Germany will not allow him entry since he does not have a passport on which a temporary visa can be stamped, and his home country India requires that he travel to India where a new passport can be issued to him. In order to travel to India without a passport, he has to jump through multitude of forms and submit to background checks that can take upwards of 30 days or more, while spending days in Lufthansa lounge at the airport and spending nights in the airport travel area.
As Vijay makes several calls to the Consulate General of India offices in various cities and while he encounters usual tactics of evasiveness, comments regarding inconvenient timing, Vijay then encounters a kindly Indian official from the CGI who meets Vijay at the airport and explains to him, “here are some forms to fill out; most of them are necessary but not important”. India has inherited such a stupendous bureaucratic procedural system, a legacy of the British rule, that navigating one’s way through the system can be a nightmare but also creates a comedy of errors and that regaled the audience. Indeed, India has made a huge progress but we still have ways to go. I will describe my own experience of losing my passport below.
Meanwhile, Vijay also meets kindness and compassion along the way. In the end, the solution comes from his own ingenuity and from a country that relies on fairness and swift solutions, where you don’t need to know someone important to get a resolution, where compassion is built into the system, where no one needs to suffer endlessly without reason. I may have misspoken — err solution came from a country that was all that and more but in its quest to make itself “great”, it may lose the status of being the best; a country where an Indian immigrant techie caught in the current hate rhetoric is now more likely to lose his life in a little bar in Kansas, and incredulous Indian parents may be less likely to enable their children to go a country where struggle may not be about climbing the ladder of success but about staying alive and finding tolerance.
This comedic tragic tale is also relevant in the context of what happened to many hundreds of people caught in wake of the current administration travel ban. Caught off guard, caught in transit, caught at airports that denied them entry after draining long journeys, many people encountered a surreal situation of being neither here nor there, of not belonging, unable to hug and find comfort and solace with their loved ones. Nation that evoked and inspired the best, left splintered families in a state of “airport insecurity” limbo. NPR has discussed this not-to -miss play, relevant in the current context. See link https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/02/24/silicon-valley-theatre-scene-bristles-with-political-edge-in-the-age-of-trump/
Great kudos to playwright and director Dhurka for showing one man’s incredible and true story with an appropriate dose of humor; kudos also to producer, Gopi Rangan and to NAATAK company for bringing 56 incredible plays relevant to the South East Asian community in the bay area. Over 60,000 attendees have enjoyed their shows, performed by over 850 artists. Get your season passes at www.naatak.org . See below my own short story of loss of passport.
The time when I lost my passport in India
I had meant to write a blog but it never happened. Here is a short saga of my own loss of passport. I had my passport and my purse stolen while traveling in India. It is a great blessing to be an American citizen, if this were to happen to you. I traveled overnight to Mumbai and as I entered the American consulate, I stepped into an incredibly efficient and welcoming zone. I told them I wanted quickly a temporary passport that would enable me to travel back home. They issued a passport within 2 hours, while I waited in their comfy room. They also handed me a letter addressed to the Indian commissioner of Police stating that I had lost my visa with my passport and that India should immediately grant me a visa to leave the country and beseeched them to “extend all cooperation for speedy permit to enable this American citizen to return home”.
That is where my saga begins. I was informed by the Indian office of police that they needed to do background check and it could take up to 30 days. I had to fill in all the forms online and then go to the office with forms printed in triplicate and wait for hours to get an appointment. When I asked why they needed forms online and in print and whether they followed automated system or manual system then I was informed that they followed “automated manual system).
I was asked to first go to the police station in the locality where theft happened. When they said there was no one who can write a report, I requested that they give me the typewriter and I offered to write it up on their behalf and they allowed me to do that. Then I had to go the local police office in the area where I resided for 15 days as a tourist. Local office asked me to produce electricity bill where I resided. I had to request that from the owner of the property who took his own time to produce it. When I was asked to pay Rs. 3,000 in cash, I handed over a big bunch of Rs. 100 notes. They brought out a foolscap sheet of paper and asked me to write down the number of each note before standing in a line where they received payment. It took 7 days of going back and forth between police stations and offices before I was issued a small note that said it was okay for me to leave the country. Later at the airport, I noticed that the validity of this little document was expiring that very day. If for any reason I were to miss my flight or weather or technical or some other delay would occur than that little note obtained after such hard work would be invalid.
But then there were two things in my favor. I was an American citizen (brown skinned or not) at a time when America was still the best AND I wasn’t in transit, but rather in my home country, a country that I love and am proud that every day it is progressing in its quest to be better, more efficient, and more compassionate.
Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Disgraced” playing at San Jose Stage theater, takes the audience on a deep dive into the complexity of identity formation, change and dynamism of identity, and also identity destruction.
The entire drama plays out in a tastefully decorated, beautiful Manhattan apartment, occupied by Pakistan born, Amir Kapoor (Damien Seperi) and his caucasian wife, Emily (Allison F. Rich). Amir is quickly climbing the corporate ladder at his Manhattan law firm and has so wholeheartedly embraced the American dream with its trappings of wealth and success that in order to get a better acceptance, he passes himself off as an immigrant from India, when a partner assumes him to be from India. That is an early peek into the close cousin of identity and the complex arena of stereotypes, where Pakistan generates stereotypes of terrorism and India of engineers and education. If Amir may be embracing fiscally conservative values, his wife Emily is a bleeding heart liberal. While Amir is hiding aspects of his identity and rejects everything Islam, Emily seeks out liberal causes and implores her husband to stand up and fight for what is just and on behalf of those falsely accused of terrorism related activities, in the aftermath of 9/11.
Emily and Amir are hosting a dinner party for their elite, high-powered friends, Jory (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), a lawyer from Amir’s firm and her husband Isaac (Jonathan Rhys Williams), a curator at the Whitney Museum. Just as Amir denounces everything Islam, Emily constantly contradicts his criticism of faith and insists on finding “beauty and wisdom in Islamic tradition”. Her paintings draw on Islamic art and she insists that the Muslims gave the world a “visual perspective”. She has created an Islamic piece of art and is hoping that she will get her big break through Isaac. Isaac is Jewish but critical of Israel’s military actions in the region. His wife Jory is African-American and is fully aware of the impact of racial profiling.
As the story advances, through various twists and turns, a complex picture and many questions emerge. Do people feel pressured to renounce their “other” cultural identities in order to gain mainstream acceptance and climb the ladder of success in America? Do people suppress rather than erase, sometimes with bitterness, their primary identity, even as they embrace mainstream values? Amir shares the story of growing up Muslim where his mother not only wanted him to embrace his culture and religion but also taught him prejudice against “others”. Albeit he embraced mainstream values but deep inside he felt rage.
The fascinating aspect of this play is that it centers not just around Amir’s story. Jory has her own identity battle, as does Isaac and in fact, Emily has her own identity issues. At an individual level, there are multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s identity, including geographic location where one grows up, one’s religion, one’s peers, parents, teachers, siblings, as well as one’s personality and temperament. However, when others perceive an individual, they tend to simplify and often judge or assume someone’s identity based on one or two factors that matter to the perceiver. At societal level what creates infinitely amazing kaleidoscopic reality is how diverse identities of multitude of people collide and intersect at multiple levels, especially when invited to focus exclusively on identity, as in the current political environment.
And finally, constant and extreme pressure to prove oneself, to suppress one’s innate identity and everything it meant in one’s formative years; real or imagined pressure to renounce one’s faith, religion or culture in order to fit in, to prove oneself, takes an incredible toll on a person. The stress can manifest in diverse ways including depression, addictive behaviors, violence, and irreversible adverse impact on health. At least one or two of these are manifested in this story.
San Jose Stage Theater (www.thestage.org) has always brought bold and relevant productions and participated in raising important questions and promote crucial dialog in our society and this play is immensely pertinent in the current political, cultural environment. Great kudos to the production team, to Ayad Akhtar, to Director William Ontiveros and the entire creative team.
“Laugh about it, cry about it, but a job is a job”. But is it really, and at what cost of personal credibility and supply of #alternativefacts does one maintain a job with questionable ethics? In “Ideation”, playwright Aaron Loeb addresses the issue of morality and ethics, through a group of corporate consultants working together on a mysterious, exciting, well paying, and ethically ambiguous project. Hannah (Lisa Mallette) is the in-house corporate executive and most senior member in the room. Her job is to facilitate and drive the project but more in a conciliatory manner than by controlling. She is joined by external consultants, Brock (George Psarras), Ted (Tom Gough), Sandeep (Sunny Moza). Additionally Scooter (Max Tachis) is a young intern, pushed by Hannah’s boss JD to do odd jobs like take notes, get coffee, get required supplies and get the room ready.
While extremely short dead line creates some serious pressure, super secret hush-hush project with obscure mission about disposal of dead bodies lands the group into giant quagmire of ethical dilemmas. As the group questions the morality of the tasks, goal, and strategy, suspicions emerges about who might be in charge of the project, could there be several such projects, could each team be privy to only limited amount of information, and who would bear moral responsibility for such a mission. The paranoia quickly escalates to break down the team, as the members begin questioning who in the team has how much information and who could be a plant from the top and the ethical dilemma begins causing cognitive dissonance regarding their role in the entire affair.
Directed by Mark Anderson Phillips, the play is thought-provoking, devilishly dark, and infuriating (because most of the answers never come), but also funny. In Trump era, marked by secrets and lies, it is also very timely. The interesting and thought provoking idea is that when a head honcho, someone at the top of the food chain refuses to be transparent and share the vision and properly considered tactical steps then there is a cascading feeling of paranoia and eventual breakdown in the team. Several times the team decides to stick to the project at hand and adhere to logic. But quickly the resolve evaporates in the looming cloud of suspicion, because logic and transparency go hand in hand, and in the absence of one, the other cannot be sustained.
Great kudos to Director, Phillips and the entire creative team, to production manager, Ron Gasparinetti and Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette, for bringing such timely and bold productions to San Jose, CityLights. For tickets, please go to www.cltc.org . Ideation will run till February 19, 2017.