Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
CORRECTED February 24, 2022 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 5A: THEATER REVIEW BY MELISSA ROONEY
PlayMakers Repertory Company Review
PlayMakers' Yoga Play Comically Portrays American Yogastic Existentialism
PlayMakers Repertory Company will stage Dipika Guha's Yoga Play, directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, on Feb. 23-March 13 in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill
PlayMakers Repertory Company's regional premiere of Dipika Guha's Yoga Play is a good place to blow off some steam, particularly if you entertain thoughts of leaving the rat race for a path toward peace and enlightenment. Jan Chambers' set is an innovative combination of rotating scenes, screens, and light shows that make you feel more like you're in a Bollywood night club than a quiet university theater. I actually tried to look up the soundtrack, so I could listen to it on my way home after the show. This is not a play to fall asleep to.
Yoga Play is the PlayMakers debut of director Pirronne Yousefzadeh. Yousefzadeh is a founding member of Maia Directors, a consulting group for artists who present stories from the Middle East and beyond. She is also associate artistic director of Engagement at the Geva Theatre Center and artistic director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Her experience and background are what make possible Yoga Play's hilariously successful introspection on cultural appropriation.
PlayMakers' regional premiere of Dipika Guha's Yoga Play, directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, stars (from left) Naren Weiss as Raj,
Sergio Mauritz Ang as Fred, Jeffrey Blair Cornell (video screen) as John Dale, and Julia Gibson as Joan (photo by Michael Sparks)
Yoga Play centers around a female chief executive officer named Joan (played by Julia Gibson), who -- after a previous breakdown, triggered by corporate stress -- is attempting to climb her second mountain by rescuing the sales of yoga apparel giant Jojomon after a fat-shaming scandal instigated by its founder. The play opens on a corporate conference room containing Joan and Jojomon employees Raj (Naren Weiss) and Fred (Sergio Mauritz Ang). Projected on two screens behind them are identical video-call images of cross-dressing Jojomon founder John Dale (Jeffrey Blair Cornell), whose caricature cotton-candy portrayal by Cornell lets the audience know immediately that they're in for a fun ride.
After reluctantly agreeing to accommodate customers whose bodies are larger than the sexualized American stereotype, John informs the three employees that he is taking a hiatus and will not be available by phone, screen, or any other means for several weeks. More scandal ensues.
Joan devises a devious plan to portray the company as authentically enlightened, when -- particularly in the absence of its charismatic creator -- this couldn't be farther from the truth. What ensues is a hilarious introspection on American hypocrisy, racism, and cultural appropriation that is as revelatory for the audience as it is for the characters themselves.
Yoga Play stars Julia Gibson (left) as Joan, Mia Pinero as Lauren Lilly Clark Rose, and Sergio Mauritz Ang as Fred (photo by Michael Sparks)
I was disappointed that I didn't get to see Jeffrey Blair Cornell play John Dale in another scene, but this only made it more satisfying when the powerful voice and meaningful statements introducing the audience to the truly authentic "Guruji" turn out to be Cornell's. Meanwhile, Weiss' wide-eyed sincerity in the face of his character's increasingly ludicrous situation reveals to the audience the depth of Raj's contradictions in a manner that brings laughter rather than scorn, an effect that is only enhanced by the comic symmetry provided by Ang's portrayal of the fearful Fred. And Mia Pinero's portrayal of "premier" yoga teacher Romola is a ridiculously accurate representation of the privileged stereotypes who teach or take American yoga classes, particularly in California. Pinero's scenes with Gibson are especially funny and always end with a bang.
Yoga Play presents its theme of yogastic existentialism with a straight forwardness and honesty that could only be written by a woman born in Calcutta and raised in Russia and the U.K., as Dipika Guha was. My hat also goes off to scenic designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Cecelia Durbin, projection designer Hana Sooyeon Kim, and sound designer Christopher Darbassie: their between-scenes music and kaleidoscope light shows really make this play stand out.
PlayMakers Rep is performing Yoga Play through Sunday, March 13th. It is worth going just to hear Cornell's delivery during Guruji's introductory scene. But you'll want to see the play's conclusion, if only for the reminder to take your dreams seriously and to breathe -- especially when your cell phone is ringing.
PlayMakers Rep's production of Dipika Guha's Yoga Play stars (from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell (video screen) as Alan Carr, Sergio
Mauritz Ang as Fred, Julia Gibson as Joan, and Sergio Mauritz Ang as Fred, and Julia Gibson as Joan (photo by Michael Sparks)
Dipika Guha's YOGA PLAY (In Person regional premiere at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 1-6 and 8-13, and streamed March 7-13), directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh and starring (in alphabetical order) Sergio Mauritz Ang as Fred; Jeffrey Blair Cornell as John Dal, Alar Carr, Mr. Kapoor, and Guruji; Julia Gibson as Joan; Mia Pinero as Romola, Lucy, Nooyi, Mrs. Kapoor, and Lauren Lilly Clark Rose; and Naren Weiss as Raj (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art). DIGITAL PLAYBILL: https://playmakersrep.org/yoga-play-playbill/. TRAILERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOIFlKoc5B4&t=1s and https://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep1. 2021-22 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2021-2022/. PRC NEWS RELEASES: https://playmakersrep.org/comedy-in-the-quest-for-meaning-and-happiness/ and https://playmakersrep.org/press/playmakers-announces-addition-to-21-22-season/. THE PRESENTER: https://playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://www.instagram.com/playmakersrep/, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO7crv41zzCYf9HxRDUEVdw. PRC BLOG: https://playmakersrep.org/about-us/our-blog/. THE PLAY: https://playmakersrep.org/show/yoga-play/, https://www.concordtheatricals.com/s/92281/yoga-play, https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/92281/yoga-play, and https://newplayexchange.org/plays/123884/yoga-play-kilroy-list-2017. THE PLAYWRIGHT: https://playmakersrep.org/artists/dipika-guha/, https://tdps.berkeley.edu/dipika-guha, https://newplayexchange.org/users/160/dipika-guha, and http://ma-yitheatre.org/labbies/dipika-guha/. THE VENUE: https://playmakersrep.org/about-us/paul-green-theatre/. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: https://playmakersrep.org/visitor-info/directions-and-parking/. CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: https://carolinatogether.unc.edu/. NOTE 1: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe and sign-language-interpret the show's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1st, performance. NOTE 2: At 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 6th, there will be an Open Captioned Performance, with a "universal-access" live-caption unit communicating the show's dialog, sound effects, and stage directions. NOTE 3: PlayMakers Rep will present Special Socially Distanced Performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday, March 8-10. TICKETS: $20 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children's picture books. She has published children's stories and verse in Highlights Children's Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of The Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council's Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn't writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as an Associate Supervisor on the Durham's Soil and Water Conservation District.
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