Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Superlative Production of Terrence McNally's A Perfect Ganesh
Margaret Civil (Phoebe Moyer) and Katharine Brynee (Kate Brickley) decide not to go on their annual vacation trips to spas or the Bahamas with their husbands. They are looking for the stimulation of discovering the mysteries of India and, we learn, for something more that a new adventure. Both have had tragedy in their lives and they are seeking closure or peace of mind. The women have each lost a son and they have never gotten over the pain of that loss. They firmly believe that the trip to India will heal, through both the intense beauty and unspeakable poverty of the country.
Ganesha (Michael Barr) - a Hindu god of wisdom, prudence, acceptance and human love, with the head of an elephant and four arms - guides them through various guises during their trip. He appears in the mortal guise of train conductor, Indian maid, a Japanese woman and a ten-year-old child. He nudges them toward self-acceptance as they witness the hundreds of homeless people lying on the sidewalks during the dawn hours in Bombay or the corpses of animals and people on a boating trip on the Ganges. This is all equated with their own guilt regarding the death of their children and the fact that one of the sons had a gay lifestyle.
Along the way, the women meet several men, (all played by Joseph Parks): a hippie, an American tourist whose wife has gone back to the States since she can't stand the poverty of the country, a young man dying of AIDS, and a very funny airline announcer for Air India. Parks also plays Katharine's son, who was killed by gay-bashing hoodlums several years prior. Katharine's main object as she travels the mid-continent is to find the "perfect Ganesh" that will give her new meaning to life.
McNally's writing is bright and clever, and the wit is emotionally honest. We are able to see the melancholiness in the hearts of the women. The playwright is brilliantly able to incorporate wonderful comedy scenes. What the servants say (in Indian, though of course we can understand them) about these Anglo women would make their ears burn.
Phoebe Moyer (winner of five SFBATCC awards and five Dean Goodman awards) plays Margaret Civil, who is really not all that civil since she complains about everything from the get-go. Moyer is excellent as a gruff, efficient and formidable person who kept the secret of her child's death from her closest friend. Katharine, or Kitty, is wonderfully played by Kate Brickley (Barefoot in the Park and worked at A.C.T. and San Jose Rep) who gives great enthusiasm to the character. Katharine is a boisterous, open-minded seeker, willing to take chances She loves to quote a line from the Bard's Henry V, "oh, for a muse of fire." She is also trying to come to terms with her dead son's lifestyle which is one of the reasons she is taking the time to visit this land of contrasts.
Joseph Parks (Sweetest Thing in Baseball at Magic, Wintertime at San Jose Rep and Drawer Boy at Pacific Alliance) is amazing in the chameleon-like character changes that include Hindu accents. He is very entertaining as the Air India announcer and steward. In direct contrast, his apparition of Katharine's son and speech on his hideous death is shocking beyond belief. His quick changes are impressive.
Michael Barr (acted in many productions at Berkeley Rep, Willows, NCTC) as Ganesha and many other roles, always wearing the mask of the elephant, gives an affecting and funny performance and he brings his many characters to vivid life.
Set designer Chris Murphy manages to get the production into the mood of India, using the back wall of the small auditorium and a second tier that represents two separate balconies of hotel rooms overlooking a square in Bombay. Costumes by Mary Jo Gross are spot-on, especially the outfits of Michael Barr as Ganesha. Director Hector Correa, who played the role at the Marin Players several years back, had done a super job of helming this tight production. He has shaped the work precisely and evenly and the pace never flags.
A Perfect Ganesh runs through April 17th at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. For tickets call 707-588-3400 or visit www.spreckelonline.com The Pacific Alliance Stage Company's next production will be George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay! running May 5 through May 22.