Theater & Dance
"The Lake Effect"

By: Rajiv Joseph
Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Nilanjana Bose, Jason Bowen, and Adam Poss
Directed by: Giovanna Sardelli
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
When: March 4 through March 29, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets: $19-$74 (discounts available). Visit or call 1-650-463-1960

Read John Orr's review of "The Lake Effect" at TheatreWorks.

Read John Orr's 2013 interview with Giovanna Sardelli

Bowen, Bose, Poss
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks
Jason Bowen as Bernard, left, argues with Nilanjana Bose as Priya, center, and Adam Poss as Vijay in Rajiv Joseph's "The Lake Effect," presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, March 4-29, 2015.
Hunkering down in the cold
for a bit of revelation
Director Giovanna Sardelli, playwright Rajiv Joseph
talk about 'The Lake Effect' at TheatreWorks
March 7, 2015

There may be ironies involved here: Giovanna Sardelli left New York in the middle of the great blizzard of 2015 ("Oh, God, yes, I can't tell you how happy I was to leave it behind," she said by phone. "I like winter, but this was getting a little ridiculous") to come to Redwood City, California, when it was 70 degrees, to direct a play called "The Lake Effect," partly about the kind of weather that "forces you to hunker down, see things anew. Snow is an important character in the play."

Giovanna Sardelli
David Allen / TheatreWorks
Giovanna Sardelli

Ms. Sardelli, raised in Las Vegas, at first didn't know about the phenomenon known as "the lake effect," which is when frigid air passes over warmer lake water, picking up water vapor, freezing it, and depositing it as snow. People near Lake Erie, lately, have seen more of it than they might like.

But, Sardelli knew she loves playwright Rajiv Joseph's writing — "If he scribbles an idea on a napkin, I want to direct it" — so here she is, warm on the San Francisco Peninsula, directing the West Coast premiere of Joseph's "The Lake Effect," which premiered to excellent reviews in Chicago in 2013.

Sardelli and Joseph are frequent collaborators — she directed the world premieres of his "The North Pool," "All This Intimacy," and "Animals Out of Paper," among others.

Joseph, in a different phone call a few days later, laughed at the "idea on a napkin" line, but said, "Giovanna is my biggest collaborator. She directed my first play ("Huck & Holden") at Cherry Lane Theatre. She's done six or seven of my world premieres.

"I really enjoy working with her. There's a real shorthand between us; she knows what I like. I come to her with notes, and she already has the same notes, because she knows me so well."

Joseph is a prolific writer. By my count, he's had eight plays produced, usually to great acclaim, and has two more set to premiere this year. Accolades and awards have been showered upon him. He's only 40 years old, and besides writing all those plays and writing for TV, did three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, earned an MFA, and teaches.

"I'm having a very busy spring," he said. "After this ("The Lake Effect" at TheatreWorks), I go to Southern California for "Mr. Wolf" at South Coast Repertory (April 12 through May 3, 2015), then I have another new play, the world premiere of "The Guards at the Taj," in May."

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"The Guards at the Taj" is to run May 20 to June 28, 2015, for Atlantic Theatre Company in Manhattan.

Sardelli — also a ridiculously busy theater professional, who actually has another play she directed, "Little Children Dream of God" on stage in New York for Roundabout Theatre Company, and is always busy reading new plays for TheatreWorks' New Works Festival, which she runs — wanted to direct "The Lake Effect" for a couple of major reasons. "This family is at the moment in the family's life where they are forced to look at their parents as human beings, to see them anew, to see themselves anew. The play capture that moment when perceptions change."

Also, the play is about the children of immigrants. Ms. Sardelli is such a person herself. As is Mr. Joseph.

"As a child of immigrants," she said, "your world view is different. You see America differently."

In "The Lake Effect," estranged siblings Vijay and Priya visit the Cleveland restaurant of their ailing father. They have painful issues from childhood to deal with, including the death of their mother. As they struggle through that, they also meet Bernard, who is their father's close friend and sometimes bookie.

Rajiv Joseph
Mark Kitaoka / TheatreWorks
Rajiv Joseph

Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie. Winter. "The Lake Effect."

"The weather phenomena is important to the play," said Sardelli. "You see the emotional effect of it."

"The Lake Effect" was a commission for Joseph, for Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey, and Silk Road Rising in Chicago.

Crossroads, according to its mission statement, "celebrates the culture, history, spirit and voices of the entire African Diaspora." Silk Road, according to its mission statement, "creates live theatre and online videos that tell stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses."

"They asked if I could write a play that met both their missions," Joseph said. "As I got into it, I found I was telling a story I was interested in, involving Cleveland (where he was born and raised), the weather, sports, gambling."

Joseph is a big sports fan, especially pro football (he thinks, like almost everybody else, that the 49ers erred when they got rid of Jim Harbaugh), and is "a big NBA fan." Baseball, it seems is OK, but only to fill the time before football and basketball start up again.

And, of course, "The Lake Effect" touches the Silk Road with the two Indians, and the African diaspora with Bernard, the sports bookie.

"What I love about Rajiv," Sardelli said, "Is he often celebrates gentle moments. He chooses love and humanity over anger and fear — Rajiv does that better than anybody.

"His plays are always a little tricky to talk about, because of all the revelation that goes on in them. People ask me, will I be depressed by this play? I don't think so. That's not the intention of the play.

"There are lots of laughs in the play — Rajiv uses humor as a release from serious events — well-played laughs. They keep the audience engaged."

Email John Orr at

Bowen, Bose, Poss
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks
Jason Bowen as Bernard, left encounters mourning siblings Nilanjana Bose as Priya and Adam Poss as Vijay in Rajiv Joseph's "The Lake Effect," produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, March 4-29, 2015.