“What is yoga?” Dipika Guha’s Yoga Play, now at Keegan through April 23, attempts to answer this recurring question through a heady mix of corporate satire, farce, and yogic teachings, complete with a love story and comeback victory. The effect is a comedy swirling with ideas and laughs, but one that isn’t always clear on how serious to take it.
When the BBC reports unethical labor practices at the multi-billion-dollar yoga company Jojomon’s overseas factories, newly installed CEO Joan (Katie McManus) launches an outlandish plan to tame the Twitterverse and keep stock prices up. In a plot better seen than summarized, Joan and her aide-de-camps Raj (Vinay Sanapala) and Fred (Jacob Yeh) manage to save the day, but not before bungling through a series of escalating problems, including a rewarding end of act one twist that elicited genuine shock and laughter.
The disconnect between yoga as a spiritual and ascetic discipline and its commodification drives much of the play’s early humor. In the play’s first scene, Joan updates Jojomon’s flighty yoga bro of a board chairman John Dale (a bejeweled Timothy H. Lynch) on the fallout from a previous PR nightmare, based on a real-life sizeist comment from the founder of Lululemon. Dale’s yogic insistence to “breathe” together and call customers “family” conflicts with Joan’s corporatese, full of numbers and acronyms. Dale balks when Joan suggests a $200 price tag for yoga pants until he hears the potential revenue.
Director Susan Marie Rhea (Keegan’s artistic director) and her cast keep the play running at an impressive clip, balancing the play’s physical humor with several delicate moments of authentic emotional depth. While some of the second-act scenes devolve into sprints and shrieks, the story and stakes are always clear.
The entire cast is genuinely funny, but no one rests on their comedic laurels. McManus brings to Joan a white-knuckle determination to succeed, showing glimpses of the smart businesswoman’s fear of being labeled a failure because the bar is set higher for her than for her male colleagues. Sanapala and Yeh are particularly winning as business besties, humanizing what might have otherwise been two-note characters. Their conversations over liquid lunches are respites from the madcap plot and bring a more global perspective to notions of justice, family, labor, and belonging. Carianmax Benitez shows her versatility in a trio of characters, and longtime Keegan staple Michael Innocenti brings a gravity to the enigmatic Bernard Brown that the play deliciously questions over and over.
The play, like most of its characters, suffers from an identity crisis. It frequently raises and discards issues too fast to do little more than squeeze an ironic laugh or twinge of sentiment out of them: glass ceilings, fatphobia, cultural appropriation, state-sponsored discrimination, capitalism’s excesses and malfeasances, celebrity and social media culture, and more.
Matthew J. Keenan’s minimalist, flexible set, framed in warm wooden beams, gives the production’s zaniness ample running room. Projection designer Jeremey Bennett, alongside associate designer Zavier Augustus Lee Taylor, paints the set’s white walls with a striking series of sun-drenched yoga commercials, Google searches, and floating fruits. Dan Deiter’s playful sound design runs the gamut from generic new-wave music to a Hindi-laden version of Lorde’s song “Royals,” a fitting selection for the play’s mashup of Eastern and Western cultures.
Though Yoga Play doesn’t resolve all its own questions, it shows that answers often come more readily in stillness than in chaos, in listening than talking, in being than in doing. The play, which began with a torrent of words, ends in a needed breath.
Running Time: About one hour 45 minutes plus one 15-minute intermission.
Yoga Play plays through April 23, 2022, the Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington DC. For tickets ($50), call the box office at (202) 265-3767 or go online.
COVID Safety: Masks and proof of vaccination are required. For the Keegan Theatre’s complete policies and procedures around keeping patrons, artists, and staff safe and healthy this season, visit their Health & Safety page.
Free yoga practice and refreshments will be offered to ticket holders two hours before showtime on April 10, 15, 21, and 22, 2022. RSVP here. Sessions will be led by local yogis, including 532 Yoga, Flow Yoga Center, Yoga Play assistant director Shadia Hafiz, and Keegan managing director Alexis Hartwick, and all attendees will be entered into a raffle for a five-class pass at Down Dog Yoga. Mats and complimentary pre-show refreshments courtesy of Banneker Hotel.
‘Yoga Play’ at Mosaic Theater Company Workshop Series (Amy Kotkin’s report on a reading of the play in January 2018)