|Ryan Morales, Bobak Cyrus Bakhitiari, Craig Marker (on screen) & Susi Damilano|
Who wouldn’t want to run out and buy a pair of soft, stretchy pants with “slow-release, organic lavender activated by water” that has made focus group participants “want to hold on to their clothes even after a sweaty yoga class”? The executive team of the athleisure company Jojoman (sound familiar, Lululemon-addicts?) is betting customers -- oops, “family” -- will flock to their stores to own a pair of the $200 pants, with their company’s bottom-line then shooting sky-high. All the new CEO, Joan, must do is convince the founder, John – who is presently in a la-la state of meditative trance in India – to allow her to let go of his vision of “aspirational branding,” only offering women’s clothes up to Size 8. She instead wants the company to embrace new “family members” up to Size 12, thus allowing more women to own clothes that “spark joy” – while of course also increasing the company coffers by untold millions.
Founders, executive teams, and their companies who espouse New Age values – like following your dreams, having a daily goal, and “breathing” away your stress – but also will do anything to keep bringing in the big bucks is the hilarious focus of Dipika Guha’s, Yoga Play, now in its second production ever at San Francisco Playhouse. Under the well-orchestrated direction of Bill English – whose tongue is never that far from his cheek in the many clever decisions he makes – a talented cast of five employs every thing from pregnant pauses, awkward silences, caricatured yoga positions, to Skype messages where cameras get stuck in unknowing crotch shots to satirize the confluence of yoga-gone-wild and profits-above-all.
|Ryan Morales, Susi Damilano & Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari|
Susi Damilano is superb as Joan, the ever-serious, always-calculating CEO of Jojoman, having recently joined the company after the previous CEO made public comments about the size of women’s thighs being the reason the “family” had started complaining about yoga-wear fabrics being too see-through. Her mission is to right that wrong while also quickly proving she can make the company ever more successful, dollar-wise. When the planned roll-out of the new line of lavender wear is suddenly put in jeopardy by a CNN report that the plant in Dhaka is actually employing children as young as nine working twelve hours a day, Joan goes into over-drive to find a solution. But first – in a company where employees stop to br-r-r-eeeathe while holding hands whenever stress shows its face -- only after she first has her own attack of breath-gasping panic that completely erases her carefully projected image of always being fully-in-control.
Joan has decided her team must immediately locate a teacher of “original,” “pure” yoga (but not “aerial,” “prenatal,” “heated power,” or “weight-training” yoga). She wants a yogi with great yoga credentials to help them through what Joan has decided is not a destabilizing, devastating disaster of to their do-only-good brand, but instead is an opportunity to reestablish their brand of yoga “authenticity.” She makes that decision while trying to ignore the 100,000 Tweets “family” members have already posted after the CNN report about the company they now call “Evilmonyoga.”
|Ryan Morales & Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari|
Joining Joan in this world-wide search is her Twiddly-Dee, Twiddly-Dum pair of yes-men, Raj (Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari) and Fred (Ryan Morales). The two are buds who follow the company norm of sharing last night’s dreams during breaks on the company’s outdoor patio (like the one Raj had about having a baby covered in flakey chicken skin). They are always the first ones to call for a breathing break when Joan starts stressing them out, but they are also themselves hyper-ventilated as they rush – no run – to fulfill her latest wishes.
Through a phone call to his India-American parents (Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor, voiced with parent-loving-and-probing hilarity by Ayelet Firstenberg and Craig Marker), Raj locates somewhere in the Himalayan foothills the perfect-sounding yogi. When he is flown over-night to be ready for a world-wide audience of millions where he will mesmerize the “family” into believing all is well in Jojoman-Land, the fun really begins. This yogi, named Guruji, is like none any one has ever seen. His arrival sets up for ever-loyal Raj a job-enriching role that he is quite literally all bug-eyed to take on, sending the audience into rounds of roaring laughter as Raj’s pal Fred tries to interpret for him (in the night’s funniest scene) the foreign language of his new job.
Craig Marker is larger than life in the initial, projected Skype session as the founder John Dale. Dressed in the latest of yogi fashion, his bearded, extremely laid-back persona is ready to “ohm” any minute, all the while he is also quick to defend limiting Jojoman’s joy-clothing to Size 8 and below. A later appearance by a now blonde-headed, pasty-chested Mr. Marker is one that surprises not only Joan and her team, but all of us in the audience.
|Ayelet Firstenberg, Susi Damilano & Ryan Morales|
Ayelet Firstenberg swings upside down in the air as Romola, yoga instructor to the stars who loses all her meditated cool if anyone – especially CEO Joan and her damn, ringing cell phone – abruptly leaves her presence without “closing out with intention.” Ms. Firstenberg is also dead-pan funny as Lauren Clark Rose, a purse-lipped interviewer who is totally enthralled of the yoga yogi that Jojoman has flown across the globe for the world to meet.
Nina Ball has created a calming, Eastern-themed setting – one that only Americans could have designed – for Jojoman’s corporate setting that is dominated by a massive, round screen where Teddy Hulsker gets to use his projections genius to “Skype” everyone from Founder John Dale to the much-anticipated interviewee, Guruji. Kurt Landisman’s lighting adds their own peaceful auras in a setting where nerves still find many ways to become quite frayed. Teddy Hulsker also designs the sounds that create the effects of soothing musical tones as well as pesky, interrupting cell phone calls. Rachael Heiman and Laundra Tyme as costume and wig designers, respectively, especially get to have a heyday as they are venture from the correct corporate wear of Joan and her team into designs looser as yogis and wanna-be yogis appear on-screen and live.
Director Bill English, his creative team, and this excellent cast combine their comic artistry –both subtle and everything-but-subtle – to produce a Yoga Play for San Francisco Playhouse that cannot help but ensure an audience exits the theatre still grinning ear-to-ear.
Rating: 4.5 E
Yoga Play continues through April 20, 2019 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street. Tickets are available at http://sfplayhouse.org/ or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
Photos by Jessica Palopoli.