Perfecting ‘Ganesh’ Studio Theatre’s Version Of ‘A Perfect Ganesh’ Focuses On Authenticity
“A Perfect Ganesh” is about two women and an elephant.
But not just any elephant. This is the Hindu god Ganesha, a deity with the head of an elephant and the body of a human.
In this acclaimed 1993 play by Terrence McNally, which opens at the Spokane Civic Theatre’s Studio Theatre on Friday, Ganesha serves as a cheerful tour guide/spiritual leader for two Connecticut matrons on a trip to India.
This odd combination of dowager and deity apparently worked quite well when “A Perfect Ganesh” opened in New York.
“At last, a truly remarkable, resonant comedy of the new manners,” wrote Clive Barnes of the New York Post.
Sure there were a few quibbles, including one that suggested that if the god’s movements were “more characteristically Indian, it might make the play seem authentic rather than campy.”
This problem may actually be rectified in the Studio Theatre’s production. Director Sara Edlin-Marlowe sought the help of two Spokane-area Indian dancers in order to lend authenticity to the movement: Shyamali Roy Hauth, a Spokane resident who runs the Nrittanjali School of Indian Classical Dance, and Suda Nandagopal, a 16-year-old junior at Mead High School who studied dance for a year in India.
Both will appear in the play, not as Ganesha (who is played by Ron Varela) but as dancers.
The story itself is about two 60-ish women who head off on Air India in order to see the sights. But they are also seeking spiritual healing, because each has lost a son under unbearably difficult circumstances.
Margaret Civil’s son let go of her hand at age 4 and darted in front of a car. Katharine Brynne’s son was murdered in a gay-bashing incident in Greenwich Village.
Ganesha turns up, in a number of guises, to help them recognize and deal with their anger and hatred. The themes are serious, but the tone is not always.
“McNally has conceived a serious work in a light fashion, turning tragedy into comedy, and the way we die into the way we live,” wrote Barnes. “The play is stuffed with ideas and images, emotions and notions, jokes and sketches.”
This play has since been considered one of the tour-de-forces of a man who is probably the most celebrated playwright in America. Time magazine used “Ganesh” as an excuse to do a profile on McNally, titled “Success Is His Best Revenge.”
John Tillinger, who directed the original run, was quoted by Richard Corliss in Time magazine as saying, “Who would have guessed that the acceptance, the healing, the mystical philosophy of India would be so fully understood by a man from Corpus Christi?”
That man from Corpus Christi has had numerous triumphs, both before and since, including “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class.”
The Studio Theatre production features Ann Russell as Katharine and Kimberly J. Roberts as Margaret. Varela, in soft-sculpture mask, plays the deity, and Kevan Gardner plays all of the other roles (18 or so).
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MEMO: Studio Theatre presents “A Perfect Ganesh” on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23-25, 30-31, Nov. 1-2 and 6-8. Showtimes are 8 p.m. except for the Nov. 2 matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8, available by calling 325-2507 or (800) 446-9576.
Studio Theatre presents “A Perfect Ganesh” on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23-25, 30-31, Nov. 1-2 and 6-8. Showtimes are 8 p.m. except for the Nov. 2 matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8, available by calling 325-2507 or (800) 446-9576.