L to R: Seth Thygesen, Sara Razavi, Michaela Greeley, & Cheryl Smith

A PERFECT GANESH by Terrence McNally, directed by Arturo Catricala. New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC) (Decker Theatre) located at 25 Van Ness Ave. at Market St. in San Francisco, 94102. NCTC Box Office (415) 861 8972, or online at www.nctcsf.org


This is the 20th anniversary of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that dramatized horrendous devastation of the AIDS epidemic by emphasizing the strained relationship between a mother and a gay son. Shortly after Angels became a Pulitzer Prize winner, Terrence McNally, in 1993, wrote his slant on similar situations entitled A Perfect Ganesh and it was nominated for the Pulitzer. Where Kushner stretched his opus into two plays, Part 1 (Angels) and Part II ( Perestroika), McNally fashioned Ganesh as a two act play. Both Kushner and McNally invoke mystical and religious themes but McNally created a dramatic comedy and his deus ex machina is not an Angel but the Ganesh, a mythical Indian God.

Margaret Civil (Cheryl Smith ) and Katherine (Michaela Greeley) are two neighboring house wives who leave there comfortable homes in Greenwich, Connecticut for a mystical two week tour of India hoping that they could bring closure to pressing emotional crisis. To accompany them on their hegira, McNally invokes the Ganesh, the Indian deity with the head of an elephant and multiple arms to be the narrator and commentator on their journey.

The Ganesh (in this production the “Ganesha” played by Sara Razavi) refers to the happy and benevolent Hindu god who is symbol of everything that is. . . the sun, the sky, the food we eat and excrete and is the all seeing. The Ganesha tells us this in monologs before and after Katherine and Cheryl show up at the Air India terminal to start their journey.

McNally introduces a fourth character simply named ‘Man’ (Seth Thygesen) who, along with the Ganesha, play multiple roles. He first appears as an Air India agent, then a intrusive hippie before becoming Katherine’s dead son Gabriel who was killed in a gay bashing. That scene is played as dream/nightmare for Katherine who harbors all encompassing guilt for rejecting him for being gay. Her journey to India is to “kiss a leper full on the lips” to atone for her act of rejection.

Margaret’s motivation is defined later in the first act when we learn that she too has lost a son in an accident and feels equally guilty. Sharing rooms and traveling in close proximity, the divergent personalities of the two women lead to strained verbal duels questioning their “best friend relationship.” They achieve a resolution of sorts through their contact with others traveling in India.

The first is a gay doctor dying of AIDS who accompanies Katherine in a walk amongst the masses of unwashed living in poverty and sleeping on the sidewalks surrounding the hotel. When the Ganesha is asked how do you handle poverty, the horrendous reply is a non-answer since “poverty is a fact.” The second is a Japanese couple whom bigoted Katherine calls “Japs.” The Japanese wife (played by the Ganesha) gives Margaret the emotional support needed to deal with her troubled marriage and advanced breast cancer. Even under the most calamitous situations, McNally injects humor into his scripts, (Ganesh? Ganesh sounds like a Jewish food”, and “Even gods do not make fun of dysentery!”). A layer of poeticism is added when, throughout the first act, Katherine’s mantra is “O for a muse of fire” taken from Henry V: Part I that reveals a hidden beauty in her harsh personality that is brought forth before the play ends.

Michaela Greely and Cheryl Smith handle their roles extremely well but quite differently. Greeley, who had a star turn as Maria Callas in Master Class and played the bitch producer in The Little Dog Laughed, has combined the qualities of both those roles thus preventing the audience from developing any empathy for her final self-realization. Smith is marvelous as she changes from an in charge matron in the Air India terminal scene to a highly dependent person who has lived a past life of unhappiness. Sara Razavi is believable as the ever present all seeing and benevolent Ganesha but slips a bit when required to play other roles while still wearing her elephant head. Seth Tygesen gives a heart-wrenching description of his death by gay bashing but is very uneven in his other multiple roles.

To handle the multiple scene changes, this production uses minimal props (Stacy Bock) relying on musical and lighting (Christian Mejia) changes to suggest the various locales on Natashia Laidlaw’s simple two level atmospheric set separated by sheer pastel curtain that could easily be fashioned into a charming sari. Arturo Catricala’s laid back direction and ponderous pacing needs revising to shorten the 2 hours and 40 minutes (with intermission) running time in order to make this production A Perfect Ganesh..

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com