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Review: YOGA PLAY at Geva Theatre

Now on stage through June 5th.

Review: YOGA PLAY at Geva Theatre

Geva Theatre's second-to-last production of the 2021/2022 season is a techno futuristic-feeling comedy that takes the audience deep into the sunny California culture of fitness, yoga, spiritual gurus, and their intersection with today's social media-driven, brand-obsessed world. "Yoga Play" traffics in themes that are familiar to all of us trying to navigate an ever-increasingly online and consumeristic world, and does so with plenty of laughter and thought-provoking fodder for the audience.

"Yoga Play" is a 2017 play by Calcutta-born playwright Dipika Guha, an emerging voice in the modern theatre space whose upbringing in India, Russia and the United Kingdom has informed all her work, and particularly this piece. In "Yoga Play", Joan (Andrea Cirie) has been hired to stabilize Jojomon, a yoga apparel giant, after its CEO (Christopher Gurr) is brought down by a fat-shaming scandal. But just as she finds her stride, more trouble surfaces and sales plummet. Joan comes up with a plan so risky that it could make or break the company and her career-and what it requires from her CFO, Raj (Rishan Dhamija), is far beyond the call of duty. This sharp comedy asks what it takes to find your own authenticity in a world determined to sell enlightenment.

For me, the most effective and enjoyable theatre---or any storytelling, really---is the kind that encases provocative and thought-provoking thematic material inside humorous and entertaining bubblewrap. In "Yoga Play", Dipika Guha does this splendidly. At a glance it could almost pass as a farcical and slapstick workplace comedy featuring two inept employees (Dhamija and Ricky Pak, who plays Fred) and their overbearing boss, which has been the architecture for innumerable TV sitcoms. Pay closer attention and you'll find that Guha is exploring issues as broad as cultural appropriation, the degenerative effects of marketing and branding, capitalism, and searching for authenticity in a world determined to sell enlightenment.

Geva Theatre's production of "Yoga Play" is marvelously acted, featuring knockout comedic performances from Rishan Dhamija and Ricky Pak-who have great onstage chemistry-Andrea Cirie as the formidable and often intimidating corporate presence, and the truly cringe-worthy performance of Jeffrey Blair Cornell's Guruji, a very intentional statement about cultural appropriation.

Per usual, Geva spared no expense (figuratively and, perhaps, literally) with Yoga Play's production design, which treats the audience to a tech-infused multimedia experience that transports the viewer into a world straddling the line between Zen and Zoom. It's truly masterful work by set designer Ann Beyersdirfer, production designer Lisa Renkel, and lighting designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.

"Yoga Play" is a refreshing, unique, and quite humorous look at our increasingly image-obsessed world. It's playing on Geva's Wilson Stage until June 5th.

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