Yoga Play, a new work by Dipika Guha, was presented as part of Mosaic Theater Company’s 2018 Workshop Series at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Monday, January 29th. The play was commissioned and first produced by South Coast Repertory (California) in 2017. Mosaic’s reading of Yoga Play was directed by Jennifer L. Nelson, an Associate Artist and former Resident Director at Mosaic.
Guha digs deep into her own multi-cultural world to create this modern comedy set in southern California. On its surface, the play’s action centers on the ambitious Joan, who has been hired to revive Jojomon, a yoga apparel company, after its fat-shaming founder has been ousted. Joan introduces the formerly verboten size 12s to the product line and just as the company begins to recover, it is jolted once again by revelations of the conditions under which its lavender-scented yoga wear is manufactured. Joan’s horrified staff watches the company’s sales nosedive in real time – on their iPhones. Desperate for a win, Joan insists that her executives find a real-life Indian yogi to endorse the clothing line and restore its credibility.
That quest, and its consequences, demonstrates what it takes to succeed in a world fueled by rampant consumerism. The fact that the business is yoga, a discipline that historically eschewed material goods, makes the mash-up of commerce and spirituality especially trenchant.
The story is presumably inspired the 2013 real-life scandal involving yoga apparel giant Lululemon, whose founder was famously forced out after blaming fabric failure on thigh-heavy women who wore out the company’s signature pants. Yet in Guha’s hands, the story becomes a springboard into more universal questions of identity, truth, and authenticity.
Each of the characters has a unique burden to bear. Joan, the uptight Anglo CEO, needs to prove herself in a C-suite world dominated by alpha men. Women who break this glass ceiling, she notes, don’t get a second chance. Fred, Joan’s gay Chinese assistant, aspires to the Green Card that will enable him to return to China temporarily, to see his mother and the lover he left behind. Romula, the L.A. Latina yoga teacher, is the character who actually adores yoga, though she also revels in the opportunities it affords to hang out with the Kardashians. The yogi Guruji turns out to be a masquerader, albeit a very good one.
Raj, the company’s Amherst-educated CFO, is the only character of Indian origin. Thoroughly Americanized, without a shred of spirituality or interest in yoga itself, he is pressed into service to impersonate the yogi during a worldwide online debut. Romula provides him with a crash course on basic poses. After the hair and make-up studio do their bit to tweak him into a credible figurehead, Raj wonders aloud whether there is a special place in hell for those who appropriate their own culture.
In a post-production discussion with the director and Mosaic staff, audience members reflected on the play, calling it funny, screwball, satirical, a parody, but never cynical. They thought the production had an odd warmth and heart. The fact that all laughed out loud as the action’s absurdity mushroomed, never masked the important issues raised by this production. In fact, the humor made its message all the more effective.
The players included Al Twanmo (Guruji); Shravan Amin (Raj); Elizabeth Kitsos (Joan); Stan Kang (Fred); and Hope Villanueva (Romula). Ronika “Ro” Harris was the Stage Manager.
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
Yoga Play was performed on January 29, 2018, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H St. NE, in Washington, DC. A free performance was held on January 31, 2018 at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library — 4450 Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington, DC. For more information on Mosaic Theater’s series of free performances at DC Public Library branches, go online.