Saturday 9 February 2019

Yoga Play plays on heart, soul, money themes
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Anyone who has done a community centre class in yoga or pilates or yolates or spynga (spinning & yoga succotash) will find much to laugh about, self-consciously, in Yoga Play. Always in such classes there's a host of outfits made of spandex and lycra and cotton and nylon. Always in various colours atop variously shaped bodies in various states of fitness. Cut-off jeans and Belichek hoodies and worn-out Wigwam sox are nowhere, because who would dare be seen on the scene stitched out like that ?

But cult clothing is only part of the marketing magnetism that reaches powerfully into the pockets of devotees : then there's the mats; the water bottles; the gym bags; the headbands and on-&-on.

Newcomer COO Joan (Lois Anderson) challenges her hot-shot marketing Ivy Leaguers Fred (Derek Chan) and Raj (Chirag Naik) to come up with a marketing scheme to launch some new threads called Joyon. Both Fred and Raj hail from Delaware but rely on their ethnic roots for speedball comic effect.
Photo credit Tim Matheson
All this to serve the main master : a hydra with heads of hope and guilt and fear and belief and doubt and desire -- desire to be, as Dipika Guha puts it, more "authentic". I want a me that that I like better physically, and maybe a piece or two of personal peace in my noisy head and troubled heart. When the Buddha-pose hands-together valediction comes that closes each class -- "Namaste!" -- when we chime it back, reverently, I want to feel "truth" in that moment.

Yoga Play riffs on these social constructs that are central to our age. Its conceit or hook is to filter all of this through the lens of shamelessly grasping corporate greed and its bottom line, its shareholders, its price-to-earnings ratios, its marketing and public relations ploys.

When the pressure mounts, Joan tries to remember some yoga breathing techniques that she drags Raj and Fred into practicing with her as she threatens Raj with dismissal if he doesn't fake some authenticity and truth as a phoney guru. 
Photo credit Tim Matheson
But first, a wee history lesson. Vancouver's Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, went on Bloomberg TV, a business channel, in the Fall of 2013. At issue was the quality of luon, they key fabric in LL's yoga clothing line. People that year complained that the fabric soon became see-through. "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs -- some women's bodies just don't work for it," Wilson remarked with nary a wink or hint of irony. As the expression has it, fat-shaming, size XXL.

In her script, meanwhile, Guha centres the action around a company called JoJomon that also manufactures what the buzzword merchants call "athleisure" clothing. They, too, have had a public relations implosion when their former COO named Brad was quoted widely saying "It was the size of women's thighs that were making the Kayala fabric transparent, not the fabric itself." Scripted 3-4 years after real-life Wilson's gaffe, make-believe Brad's comment was perhaps just artistic coincidence. At worst, faux-plagiarism. Whatever : it is what it is.

The purpose of Yoga Play is more "play" as in riffing and laughing at ourselves over life's myriad ironies than "play" as a dramatic event to be taken seriously. It is satire, slapstick, silliness run riot with a wee hint that a "piece of peace" can be had, too. With a couple of throwaway shout-outs for feminism along the way.

Albeit the cast is four men and two women, it is the women who do the heavy lifting most of the night. As the new JoJomon COO, Joan (Lois Anderson) is an MBA whiz-kid with a head that buzzes from data overload, growth schemes, and hypoventilation that brings on fainting and panic attacks.

Early on we learn of a BBC expose that the Bangladeshi factories used to manufacture its new miracle fabric Joyon are a sea of child labourers, girls aged 9-12 who are little more than slaves. 

Product chief Fred (Derek Chan) screeches to JoJomon's brand rep in Dhaka, Lucy, that "BBC has proof that a lot of those women are twelve, did they look twelve to you? Lucy?!?".  Her response made the whole house feel guilty even as we laughed : "I mean, every one here is quite small...and they cover their heads, a lot of them!"

Soon Joan and her other product marketer Raj (Chirak Naik) are off to L.A. to find a genuine yoga person to become JoJomon's public face. They find 25-year-old Romola (Christine Quintana) who is all effervescence and chipper confidence but just doesn't click with Joan. As Joan stomps out of her studio, Romola loses her cool and spits out "Namaste! you bitch" as the crowd roars.

Shortly the play takes a turn -- a slow, painfully slow turn -- as Guha sends her troupe to India to find a real Yoga master. They find one, a 15-year ascetic bivouac'd on a mountaintop. Turns out he's a Yankee pilgrim from Santa Monica formerly known as Bernard Brown (Shawn Macdonald).

Raj, all Hindu DNA but fetched up in Delaware, is frog-marched into the "real" Yoga master role instead, while Fred feeds him pidgin Hindi. It's all quite a mish-mash of antic nonsense. Best line of the night comes from Raj : "Is there a special place in Hell for those who appropriate their own culture?" he asks rhetorically. "Authenticity" and "truth" for JoJomon are threadbare, it turns out. Regardless, their stocks shoot up. Joan can b-r-e-a-t-h-e ! at last.

Lois Anderson dives headlong into her role as Joan with rapid-fire neurosis at the ready. As Raj, Chirag Naik demonstrates an ever-more-skilled comic presence each Vancouver stage outing, while Christine Quintana as the wannabe enlightened yoga entrepreneur from L.A. was sheer hoot. Shawn Macdonald's video clip of JoJomon president John Dale came close to stealing the show. Throughout, all the cast's footwork and verbal shenanigans were richly supported by Chengyan Boon's lighting and screen projections : his work certainly helped bring together the otherwise almost-too-wide Gateway proscenium stage for this production. 

This mix of corporate promotion of  yoga "class", lit. & fig., blends ironically with people's genuine desire to be more nimble and fit physically and spiritually. It's a paradox that plays itself out through well-threaded gag lines and byplay. While not standing-o fare and a middle that sags, athleisure types of every persuasion will surely jiggle their giggle over Yoga Play.

Particulars :  Produced by Gateway Theatre, Jovanni Sy, outgoing Artistic Director. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until February 16, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.comShow-time 125 minutes, one intermission.

Production team :  Director Jovanni Sy.  Set Designer Sophie Tang.  Costume Designer Amy McDougall.  Sound Designer Mishelle Cuttler.  Lighting / Video Designer Chengyan Boon.  Yoga Consultant Scheherazaad Cooper. Technical Director Mac Macleod. Technical Director Theodore Sherman. Production Manager Joseph Chung. Stage Manager Susan Miyagishima. Assistant Costume Designer Melissa McCowell. Assistant Sound Designer Sara Rickrack. Production Assistant Madelaine Walker. Props Master Carol Macdonald.  Assistant Stage Manager Koh Lauren Quan. Wig Designer Marie Le Bihan.

Performers :  Lois Anderson (Joan). Harundi V. Bakshi (Guruji). Derek Chan (Fred).  Shawn Macdonald (John Dale / Bernard Brown).  Chirag Naik (Raj).  Christine Quintana (Romola).  


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