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Yoga Play: steady that pose

by | Feb 9, 2019 | Review | 0 comments

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Dipika Guha's Yoga Play.

Christine Quintana and Chirag Naik in Yoga Play (Photo: Gateway Theatre)


If only it had a middle. Yoga Play has an enticing beginning and a meaningful conclusion. But, in between, it gets lost in low-stakes plotting.

In Yoga Play, American writer Dipika Guha takes aim at the commercialization of an ancient ascetic practice. Think Lululemon, that’s what Guha does: she invents a Lululemon-like company called Jojomon and, right off the top, she tosses in a reference to Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who tried to say that some of his company’s yoga pants became transparent only because the thighs of the women wearing them were too big.

The large and small details of Guha’s writing are effervescent in their inventiveness. A guy named John, who owns Jojomon, calls his dog Sappho. And Jojomon has just come out with a new fabric that features the slow release of organic lavender—and was inspired by Marie Kondo.

Then the plot hits—but not really. An investigative team from the BBC reveals that one of Jojomon’s subcontractors has been using child labour in India and Jojomon suddenly faces a crisis of authenticity, so CEO Joan and her team go off in search of a genuine guru to be the company’s spokesperson.

But are few reasons to care about the story, even though Guha tries to build some in. Joan suffered a mental-health crisis while working at a company that sounds like Starbucks. She still has panic-induced fainting spells and feels that she is particularly vulnerable as a woman in corporate America. But, because Joan’s behaviour is relentlessly unethical and self-serving, this contextualization is more compelling in theory than it is in the unfolding story.

Similarly, Joan’s assistant Frank talks about how tough it was growing up gay in Singapore, but Singapore is pretty far off-stage so this information doesn’t have much impact.

Fortunately, The Gateway’s production of Yoga Play is stylish, so you’ve always got something to look at. Set designer Sophie Tang provides white sliding panels that are vast but lightweight and provide excellent projection surfaces for Chengyan Boon’s lighting and video design. When Joan visits LA’s leading yoga studio, for instance, we see the studio’s massive pink wall, which features a giant lotus blossom and gently running water.

Guha’s script incorporates all sorts of technology, which also makes for a nice fit: when Joan and her team are Skyping with John, for instance, we see John’s massive face stage right.

Amy McDougall’s costumes are equally successful. Just wait for the guru’s hair.

The performances in director Jovanni Sy’s production are consistently solid, although it’s sometimes hard to hear Chirag Naik as Raj (another of Joan’s assistants) and especially Derek Chan as Fred. Lois Anderson, who plays Joan, is, as always, bracingly confident onstage, which makes her a pleasure to watch.

Still, the script wanders too long and its parody becomes blunted—Romola, a yoga instructor, tells Joan that her aura is very grey, for example. But Guha still gets in some good hits. Raj is a non-observant Hindu who grew up in Delaware. In one of the play’s best lines, he wonders if there’s a special place in hell for people who appropriate their own culture.

Guha works a couple of good twists into the plot and the second one ends the play with unexpected resonance. That resonance is late, but it’s still welcome.

YOGA PLAY By Dipika Guha. Directed by Jovanni Sy. A Gateway Theatre production at the Gateway Theatre on Friday, February 8. Continues until February 16.Tickets.


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