february 2019 | Volume 176
Lois Anderson & Derek Chan. Photo by Tim Matheson.
After seven years as Artistic Director of Gateway Theatre, Jovanni Sy goes out with a bang as director of this funny, stylish, Canadian premiere of Yoga Play. American playwright Dipika Guha has written a clever satire of corporatism, consumerism, public relations and faux spirituality that resonates nicely with Vancouver’s most famous brand of yoga apparel.
Lois Anderson plays Joan, brought in to run Lu…, I mean Jojomon, a corporate giant in the yoga apparel business that’s been losing market share since the scandal that brought down its previous CEO. At the opening, she and associates Fred (Derek Chan) and Raj (Chirag Naik) have to convince owner/founder John (hilarious Shawn Macdonald), away on his latest woo woo yoga retreat, to allow the release of their new line of Jojomon tights in size 12.
John appears on one of the two giant video screens that dominate Sophie Tang’s beautiful, slightly larger-than-life-size open stage set. Chengyan Boon’s gorgeous video design provides the eye candy.
When social media breaks the news that the Bangladesh factory manufacturing the tights employs underage girls, Joan has to come up with a strategy to neutralize the scandal, re-establish Jojomon’s “authenticity” and win back the “family,” as John insists on calling their customers.
Her solution: recruit a real live Indian guru to talk about yoga, spirituality and Jojomon in a televised interview. As you might imagine, this turns out to be more complicated than it seems. And it doesn’t go well. Or maybe in the end it does.
I’ll avoid spoiling the fun by giving too much away. Suffice to say that Naik’s Raj has a major role to play here, and he’s a riot. Guha also has some quietly serious things to say about yoga as a spiritual practice. Maybe it has to do with more than just exercising, buying and selling expensive stretchy pants or climbing the corporate ladder.
Joan, Fred and Raj each get an underdeveloped back story involving ambition, gender and family. Their serious moments seem a little generic, but their acting is first-rate and the comedy smashing.
As Romola, an over-the-top yoga instructor, Christine Quintana does a nice job with the play’s most cliched character.
In the figure of the Indian guru the play certainly flirts with cultural stereotype. But the playwright takes some careful pains to neutralize this. And her own ethnicity, along with Raj’s and Naik’s, probably makes it all right.
I say probably, because it’s hard to say whether satire, good intentions or ethnically appropriate artists and characters are enough to keep people from being offended. I wonder how a South Asian audience would react. For what it’s worth, this white non-Hindu Westerner found the play tasteful and funny.
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