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 theatreworks.org or call 1-650-463-1960
Read John Orr's interview with Giovanna Sardelli and Rajiv Joseph about "The Lake Effect."
Read John Orr's 2013 interview with Giovanna Sardelli
brilliance at TheatreWorks
Think of "The Lake Effect" at TheatreWorks as a fine Swiss watch.
Every wheel, pinion, escapement must be painstakingly crafted by the finest artisans, then put together by the best in the business to work.
"The Lake Effect" starts with a brilliantly crafted script by Rajiv Joseph, 80 minutes of humanity illuminated by humor and identifiable familial pathos. Add three fine actors Nilanjana Bose, Adam Poss and Jason Bowen a beautiful set, costumes, lighting and sound, and get Joseph's most frequent collaborator, director Giovanna Sardelli, to put it all together, and you have an impressive piece of work that should not be missed.
This is the level of theater to which we all might aspire.
As the lights come up on the interior of an Indian restaurant in Cleveland, we can see the snow falling through the windows of Wilson Chin's significantly realistic set.
Adam Poss, as Vijay, is trying to make sense of his father's financial ledger for the restaurant, and having no success. He is angry and upset. Upstairs, his unseen father, Vinod, is dying.
In from the blizzard comes Jason Bowen as Bernard, who ignores Vijay's protests that the restaurant is closed.
Bernard is a great character, beautifully delivered by Bowen, with street smarts and wisdom for the ages, despite occasionally having trouble with words because of a mysterious cranial injury. And, he has been a lot closer to Vinnie than Vijay for the past year, because Vijay has been estranged from his family for more than a decade, because of something that happened in his childhood.
Bernard just keeps talking, mostly about sports and how great Vinnie was at picking winners when he placed bets with Bernard.
"My father doesn't gamble," Vijay says.
"I told him, that shit is ill-advised," Bernard says about a certain bet, adding that he is there to deliver Vinnie's $1,100 in winnings.
"What!?" Vijay yells, one of many times in this fabulous scene, in which he learns things about his father and his sister that shock him. It's hilarious, but also touching, as we realize how disconnected and anchorless Vijay has become.
Bernard wants to see Vinnie, who has become his best friend, helping him overcome his terrible injury. They'd spent hours talking, as "Vinnie gave me my mind back."
Vijay can't reconcile that kind man who helped Bernard with the harsh father of his bitter childhood memories.
When Nilanjana Bose shows up as Vijay's sister, Priya, there are more revelations to come, and key childhood traumas to try to reconcile. Priya also knows a lot more about her father than did Vijay, and even more than Bernard knows, which becomes an issue.
Joseph is a master of using character revelation to tell his story. Not just Vijay's shocked exclamations of "What?!" but also bits of information and action that bring gasps from the audience.
Bose, who makes beautifully dressed Priya a pragmatically fast-moving woman with some real adult worries, is wonderful to watch as she deals with re-educating her brilliant but failed brother.
Poss, who originated the role of Vijay in the world premiere in Chicago, has a huge character arc to create, and does so with considerable skill.
Bowen is fabulous as Bernard, who can't understand what happened to him a year before, and who knows the street life, but still tries to be a good person. All he remembers from his injury is Vinnie talking to him, helping him stay alive till the ambulance came.
As pushes come to shoves in this elegantly crafted story, Bernard goes out to the river and looks up into the falling snow to talk with his mother, as he has ever since her death. By this time, Vinnie has died, and Bernard wants guidance about something important he must do.
The lake effect happens when frigid air sweeps over a warmer lake, picking up vapor and dropping it as snow. In this play, "The Lake Effect" is very tied to concepts of the river of life and holy waters.
As Priya and Vijay fight over what to do about some key ethical issues, it is up to poor, brain-damaged Bernard to find the decent, human path.
I like what TheatreWorks founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley says about "The Rajiv Effect" in his essay for the program: "Rajiv Joseph's plays overflow with characters often out of touch, out of sync, out of time. And then some faint light flickers, some hesitant harmony sounds, some tentative touch offers a breath of hope, perhaps even forgiveness: some connection is, and must be, made."
At the end of "The Lake Effect," which has touched us in many ways, and made us laugh, and made us gasp in horror, we are left with that light, that harmony, that breath of hope.
Scenic designer Wilson Chin's set is excellent, with big glass windows of the restaurant showing the endlessly falling snow outside. It works with beautiful help from lighting designer Matthew Johns and sound designer Brendan Aanes. Costume designer Jill Bowers dresses the street-smart Cleveland man, and the two sharp-dressing, sophisticated but life-challenged children of an immigrant from India, in ways that inform the story.
I was tickled by the entrances of Bose and Bowen, who have to come in from "outside," dressed in heavy winter jackets, blowing and exclaiming from the cold. Very well done! Because it is never cold on the Lucie Stern Theatre, under all those lights. "They gave us ice packs to put in the jackets," Bowen told me later.
Email John Orr at email@example.com