Comedy pokes fun at the Western commercialization of Eastern spiritual practice
In ancient Sanskrit, the word yoga means “union,” or the combined disciplines that one practices to achieve personal enlightenment. But in Dipika Guha’s comedy “Yoga Play,” most of the materialistic characters are using yoga purely for personal enrichment.
“Yoga Play” premiered in 2017 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and made its San Diego premiere Saturday at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. The topical play — inspired by the scandal that rocked Vancouver’s high-end yoga-wear maker Lululemon six years ago — tackles a variety of issues, including cultural appropriation, racism, gender politics and corporate greed. But instead of diving deep into these issues, the lighthearted play merely buzzes quickly from one issue to the next, delivering several well-aimed stings.
In her Moxie directorial debut, Callie Prendiville has fielded a strong cast who bring a cohesive and farcical sensibility to the script, which is light on plot but rich in characters.
The play is set in the corporate offices of Jojomon, a fast-rising yoga apparel maker that’s still reeling from the firing of its co-founder, who in true Lululemon-like fashion implied that its “aspirational” clothing isn’t appropriate for women larger than a size 10.
His smart but fiercely driven replacement, Joan, proposes adding larger sizes and a new line of lavender-infused yoga-wear inspired by Marie Kondo’s tidying book “Spark Joy.” But when another scandal erupts over child labor at the firm’s Far East apparel factory, Joan and her employees, Fred and Raj, hire a famed cave-dwelling guru from India to prove the integrity and authenticity of their brand.
While the plot goes a bit off the rails in act two, Guha has written some well-crafted characters who are all living inauthentic lives. Their individual journeys through this corporate crisis help them find their inner selves.
Joan, played with frantic, high-wire energy by the always-excellent Jo Anne Glover, is desperate to succeed at Jojomon, after suffering a breakdown at her last job as a coffee company executive. As a woman in the corporate world, second chances are rare, so she will lie and manipulate others to stay on top.
As people-pleasing marketing manager Fred, Albert Park is gentle, timid and kindhearted. Raised in Singapore, educated at Harvard and secretly gay, Fred hides his sexuality and his love for the man he left behind when he came to the U.S. Through the course of the play, Fred finds both his spine and his purpose.
Sri Chilukuri is likably naive as the virginal Raj, Jojomon’s token Indian executive who was raised in Delaware, doesn’t practice Hinduism and hates yoga. Although Raj has no personal connection to his heritage, he’s humorously thrust into that world on national television to save the company.
Filling out the cast in multiple roles are talented actors and nimble foreign accent specialists Tamara Rodriguez and Matthew Salazar-Thompson.
Divya Murthy designed the Eastern-inspired scenery, Danita Lee designed costumes, Christopher Renda designed lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood designed sound. A nice touch is the play’s soundscape of Hollywood movie theme music re-orchestrated in Bollywood sitar fashion.
With its ripped-from-the-headlines source material, “Yoga Play” — which runs two hours with intermission — could be sharper in its satire. Too often, Guha relies on easier, old-fashioned sight gags that amuse rather than provoke thought.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Rolando.
Phone: (858) 598-7620