These days, America is bullish on yoga ... and yoga clothing. Yoga pants have outpaced jeans as the go-to women’s wear for all but formal occasions. What Lululemon started in 1998 with its first line of stretchy, sexy, pricey leggings has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar athleisure industry with a number of hungry competitors.
Whoops. Isn’t yoga supposed to be a spiritual pursuit? Is the updated mantra Om, money, money, money?
Moxie Theatre, always on the lookout for plays that address women-centric issues in unusual ways, is presenting “Yoga Play,” which they call “a deep breathing, belly-laughing comedy about enlightenment ... in a world determined to sell it.”
Written by Dipika Guha (who was born in Calcutta, raised in India, the UK and Russia, and currently lives in Oakland), the play deals with the misadventures of Jojomon — a yoga apparel company and they struggle to find a way out of a bad situation they fell into by fat-shaming women who complained that their yoga pants were too transparent. (Hmm, where have we heard this before?)
The play opens with Joan, Jojomon’s new CEO, in her office, with two employees, Fred and Raj, sitting by as she Skypes with the company’s founder, John. She’s proposing to start a new line of larger-size yoga pants to show that the company welcomes women of all sizes. John thinks that could ruin their image, but changes his mind when she says the new products will bring in $68 million in the first quarter.
The laugh lines start coming and we quickly get the picture: the company, which refers to customers as “family” and promotes deep breathing, serious yoga practice, and the frequent sharing of dreams, personal goals and kombucha among employees, is full of some pretty tense, anxiety-ridden people. As the play moves along and a new disaster looms, the tension mounts ... and so does the comedy.
Tensest of all is Joan, played by Jo Anne Glover, who happens to be one of Moxie’s co-founders and an award-winning actress. In this part, she never really gets a chance to show her chops, since she’s always the uptight new girl at the helm of a potential Titanic, and almost all we get to know about her is that she often has trouble breathing — ah-ha! — until the very end.
Then there’s Fred (Albert Park) — a Singapore native who’s desperate for a green card — and Raj (Sri Chilukuri) — a Harvard-educated, American-born Indian who knows little about yoga or India or even exactly who he is. They’re a cute comic duo, and Raj really gets his chance to shine in an unexpected second act solo.
Additional surprises, playing a number of characters each, are the delightful Tamara
Rodriguez, especially as the Latina yoga teacher Romola, and Matthew Salazar-Thompson, especially as the imported guru, Bernard. And Callie Prendiville, Moxie’s associate artistic director, does a nice job in her directorial debut.
“Yoga Play” is a comedy about identity, gender, corporate shenanigans, the pursuit of happiness and oh, yes — enlightenment. But there’s more of a cartoon-feel to the characters than a sense that they might be real folks.
Still, whether you know a lot about yoga or nothing at all, “Yoga Play” is a fun way to spend an evening, with plenty of laughs along the way. And these days, who could ask for anything more?
Behind the Scenes
Glover, who plays the very un-yogic Jojomon CEO Joan, is actually a popular yoga teacher and manager of a local yoga studio.
Rodriguez, who plays Romola, is also a yoga teacher. “Yoga has changed my life in every way and it feels amazing to have my alter ego onstage here,” she said. “I’m so typecast: a Latina yoga teacher!”
Chilukuri, who plays Raj, had his own enlightenment in the course of “Yoga Play.”
“I realized I want to do what makes me happy, which is actually what the play is about,” he said. “I started out in theater, but I’ve been in Hollywood for the past four years, and they don’t want you to do theater — it’s too much of a commitment. But I’ve had such a great time with this play and the people in it, and I’ve got family here, so I think I’m going to back to it.”
(Editor’s Note: Lonnie Hewitt, who wrote this review, has been yog-ing for about 50 years, starting with two-hour-long classes in a Manhattan gym and a number of Indian masters, who have since left their bodies. She is still here, not quite as tense as Joan, still doing (modified) yoga, and very attached to deep breathing.) Namaste!
• IF YOU GO: “Yoga Play” onstage through June 2, 2019 at MOXIE Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, San Diego. Tickets: $44-$15. (858) 598-7620. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit moxietheatre.com