DELICIOUSLY PROVOCATIVE GANESH SERVED TO PERFECTION AT CV REP
Let’s clear the air right from the start. Terrence McNally’s Pulitzer-nominated play The Perfect Ganesh has nothing to do with desserts or Jewish foods of any kind. It refers to the Hindu deity with an elephant head who is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the god of intellect and wisdom. The playwright considers this play as his personal favorite, and with The Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre’s outstanding production, it is easy to see why.
The Perfect Ganesh involves a journey taken by two similar, yet different, pilgrims. Margaret Civil and Katherine Brynne are two upper-middle-class Greenwich Connecticut housewives in less-than-happy marriages. Despite the passage of time — one a more-recent memory, the other a further and more distant past – the women are still dealing with similar tragedies.
Margaret mourns not only the murder of her first-born son in a violent hate crime; she harbors self-hatred and regret for her rejection of him because of his sexual orientation. Katherine’s secrets are more deeply buried and more skillfully repressed. Her first-born son was killed when he dashed out of the safety of her arms and into on-coming traffic. In both instances, McNally explores the resulting consequences of each of these tragedies and its resulting reverberations in the lives of the living.
Guiding the two women — and us the audience — on this spiritual journey is the Hindu god himself with the elephant head. Here, Ganesh serves as our classic Greek chorus, both participating in the on-going action as well as omnisciently commenting on the foibles of mortal beings. Completing the four-person quartet of characters is the character simply identified as “Man.” At the CV Rep’s production, the four actors playing these roles deliver first-class performances.
Sharon Sharth’s Margaret is magnificent. She nails the arrogant self-righteousness and self-absorption of her character. Her performance is mesmerizing from start to finish, completely right from her sharply-spoken delivery to her class-appropriate gestures. Fluctuating from bossy matron to comforting friend, Ms. Sharth’s performance is nuanced and award-worthy. Almost equally matched is the work of Kathleen M. Darcy. Her Katherine was stereotypically correct, from the scatter-brain movements to her warm smile.
Completing the canon of Actor’s Equity players is Mueen Jahan. His Ganesh/Ganesha is skillfully delivered, even behind a most-challenging elephant mask. Playing multiple roles while always under the mask of the Hindu god, Mr. Jahan delivers a most-impressive transformation with each role. Whether playing an insightful Japanese businessman or his tourist wife, a nosy hotel maid or the African-American woman who accidentally ran over Margaret’s four-year-old boy singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” McNally reminds us that indeed god is present in all of us. As Ganesh himself states at the start of the play, “I am in your kiss, and I am in your cancer, ” emphasizing the interconnectedness of humans to each other and to the rest of the world, and further, how blind Westerners can often be to the lives and environments of even those closest to them.
Matching the skill of the three Equity players, Sean Galuszka is equally remarkable. As McNally’s every-“Man,” Galuszka plays roles as diverse as a most-catty Air India desk attendant, a young physician dying of AIDS, and an English Ganges River boat-tour guide, among others. Helping to distinguish among the multiple roles portrayed by the players in this production are the most-effective costume designs of Aalsa Lee. Ms. Lee’s costumes are marvelous, most especially her work for the two lead ladies, whose costume changes are so age-, period-, and class-appropriate that it was easy to forget that we were witnessing a performance and not some comedy-of-errors reality show.
Completing the magic is the fine work of the technical crew of the CV Rep. Jimmy Cuomo set designs are effectively skeletal, just enough Indian-baroque to suggest atmosphere while leaving the rest to the audience’s fertile imagination. Stuart A. Fabel’s lighting and Cricket S. Myer’s sound designs are spot-on and pitch-perfect (puns fully intended).
And of course, it is the production’s director who will ultimately carry the prize or the badge of shame. This one is prize worthy. Ron Celona’s direction is masterfully nuanced. The production is all at once comic and dramatic, provocative and touchingly heartfelt. Under Mr. Celona skillful hands, he open’s McNally script as a masterful illumination of the human condition, both a reflection of our weakened nature and our powerful spirit. At some points during the performance, he physically opens up the stage proscenium allowing the actors to enter and exit stage left and right, allowing them to interact with the audience, magically transforming the intimate theatre into physical spaces of both upper-crust balcony and lower-class masses of Mumbai. As a complete package, I am sure that Terrence McNally would be a most-proud parent indeed.
Go see The Perfect Ganesh at the CV Rep. Performances from January 22nd to February 9th on Wednesdays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. The Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre is located at “The Atrium” at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. Box Office at 760-296-2966. Further information at http://www.cvrep.org/
Armin’s Grade: A+
Review by Armin Callo, Contributing Arts & Theatre Editor