KPBS AIRDATE: August 28, 1996
There’s one more elephant still lingering in town — at least for another week or so. Well, it’s not totally an elephant, only from the neck up. That would be the Hindu god Ganesha, and he is, as advertised, “A Perfect Ganesh.”
Ganesha, the Lord of Obstacles, Prince of Fortune, has a jeweled elephant head and a chubby human body. In Terrence McNally’s 1993 play, he is the jovial, giggly narrator, as well as the guide and deliverer of two Connecticut housewives who journey to India in search of healing. They are carrying more than their physical baggage. Each has lost a son in a gruesome way. They are harboring secrets, consumed by guilt, awash in prejudice, hungry for love… hoping, at least, for understanding, at best, for redemption.
Far removed from their safe American lives, they are, in the microcosm of India, confronted by all the evils of the world: poverty, disease, cruelty, suffering, death and bigotry. McNally once again turns his spotlight on AIDS and homophobia, but there is much more here. Maybe too much.
The narrations and explanations get to be a drag on the proceedings, despite the delightfully effusive and elegantly graceful performance of Azfar Najimi as Ganesha. Sometimes, the language is eloquent and poetic; sometimes the script is just too talky, and even a bit preachy. It is also, at times, surprisingly funny.
In North Coast Rep’s starkly simple but lovely production, much is left to the imagination, which is a good thing, given the incredibly frequent scene changes. The set, lighting and sound are beautifully evocative.
The performances are solid, with Sandra Ellis-Troy doing her best to make her character’s gushing lines ring true. Pat DiMeo is strongest when she’s most neurotic; Dan Gruber plays all the ancillary characters — more than a dozen of them — with wit and variety.
Sean Murray has a deft touch with the material; as he proved at last year’s “Tempest on the Beach,” he is an imaginative and artful director. But though all the requisite elements are here, the result is not, finally, moving. What missing is emotional nuance. Some of the problem may be inherent in the script, but some of the difficulty sits squarely on the narrow, North Coast stage.
I didn’t believe the long-term friendship of these two travelers, or that they cared about each other at all. When they had epiphanies, visions, flashes of insight, I didn’t buy it and I didn’t feel it. Mostly I felt they were giving good line readings, but weren’t really connecting. Their international travel was well delineated; their internal journey was much less clearly defined. The outcome was visually and cross-culturally stimulating, but emotionally unsatisfying.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.