"Yoga Play"—Comedy in the Quest for Meaning and Happiness

John Glore
 | Apr 18, 2017
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Discussion with Dipika

Playwright Dipika Guha talks about Yoga Play.

Dipika Guha’s Yoga Play is a provocative comedy that derives ample humor from the collision of personal authenticity and spiritual well-being with the drive for corporate success.

Jojomon, a company that manufactures high-end yoga apparel and accoutrements, has a new CEO. Joan was brought in after the previous CEO gave the company a public-relations black eye by blaming the unfortunate transparency of their most recent line of yoga pants on the size of women’s thighs. It turns out fat-shaming is not a good marketing strategy.

Joan has some ideas about how to redeem the company’s reputation ​and—and in truth, she needs some professional redemption herself, after a breakdown cost her her previous executive position with an international coffeehouse chain. Working with Jojomon execs Raj and Fred, Joan convinces the company’s chairman to let her begin manufacturing their apparel in larger sizes, arguing that this will spread yogic joy to a whole new clientele and will convince the existing Jojomon “family” of customers that the company doesn’t disregard anyone based on their body type.

Everything seems to be going exceptionally well for Joan and Jojomon, until another scandal breaks—and the company may never recover from this new public-relations nightmare unless Joan, Raj and Fred can come up with a rescue plan immediately.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but the scheme Joan concocts (and coerces her colleagues to participate in) is extreme. It will require Raj to come face-to-face with an identity crisis that has been quietly brewing for some time, stemming from the fact that, while he is of South Asian heritage, he grew up in the U.S. and has no connection to the language and culture of his motherland. But now Joan needs him to become an expert in all things Hindu​—fast—and she’ll stop at nothing to ensure his cooperation.

The play’s comedy at times explodes into out-and-out farce​—but it’s farce with a heart, because ultimately Guha wants us to care about the characters and their quests for meaning and happiness. She understands that we all sometimes feel as though we’re living in a farce amid the craziness of today’s world—and that maybe the cure for all that craziness must be found within rather than from outside ourselves.

Guha wrote Yoga Play with a commission from SCR’s CrossRoads Initiative. In keeping with the CrossRoads methodology, she began her work on the play by coming to SCR for an immersive residency, to investigate the Orange County community and aspects of the local culture. She was interested in exploring California as a longtime destination for spiritual seekers, a kind of Shangri-la for people hoping to find inner peace and happiness; and in particular she was intrigued with the proliferation of the yoga phenomenon in California.

Guha was born and spent some of her childhood in India​—the birthplace of yoga—where her school day included yoga exercises. But she had never taken any yoga in America until she came to Orange County. Her residency included visits to several different yoga studios, where she quickly learned that yoga as practiced in the U.S. is quite different from the instruction she received as a schoolgirl, which had been more like calisthenics and had little or no transcendental purpose.

While the primary pursuit of most California yogis may be flexibility and physical fitness, many are also drawn to the promise of spiritual well-being (or at least a kind of New-Age version of it), which was the original aim of traditional yoga, when it arose from Hindu religious beliefs some 3,000 years ago.

At the same time, Californians have become enamored of such non-traditional yoga paraphernalia as yoga balls, yoga mats, yoga blocks, yoga pants, yoga videos, etc – which can cost hundreds of dollars. The commercialization of yoga seemingly knows no bounds in America, where the industry that has grown up around this spiritual/physical practice generates more than $10 billion a year.

That intersection of spirituality and commodification, Hinduism and capitalism, fascinated Guha, as did some of the yoga practitioners she encountered during her residency, who seemed to embody the contradictions of a practice that began in ancient South Asia but has been enthusiastically embraced in a whole new way in the new world.

SCR’s world premiere of Yoga Play takes the stage in the intimate Nicholas Studio as one of three productions in the 20th Pacific Playwrights Festival. The director is Crispin Whittell, whose work was last seen here when he staged Adam Rapp’s The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois, also in the Nicholas.

The cast includes longtime SCR favorite Nike Doukas in the role of Joan. Doukas was last seen here earlier this season when she played Ladybird Johnson in All the Way. She is joined by Jeff Marlow (George Wallace in the same production of All the Way), who plays the chairman of Jojomon and also another surprise character. In the role of Raj is Dileep Rao, returning to SCR after appearing in Joe Hortua’s Making It on the Argyros Stage in 2002. Raj’s sidekick, Fred, is played by Tim Chiou, making his SCR debut. Lorena Martinez, also making her SCR debut, plays a series of on- and offstage roles, most prominently a yoga teacher named Romola who is recruited to help Joan with her plan to save Jojomon. Learn more about the cast of Yoga Play here.

The design team comprises Se Hyen Oh, scenic design; Kathryn Poppen, costume design; Adam J. Frank, lighting design; Cricket S. Myers, sound design; Lianne Arnold, projection design.

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