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Cast perfect: Rocky Bonsal as Lord Ganesha (l) and Tim Dugan as Walter in A Perfect Ganesh.

Out of Meaninglessness
By James Yeara

A Perfect Ganesh
By Terrence McNally, Directed by Ward Dales

Actors’ Collaborative Inc., the Arts Center of the Capital Region, through April 27

Terrence McNally’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated A Perfect Ganesh is the perfect play given the perfect production for Actors’ Collaborative Inc.’s 10th season. This picaresque play shares much with previous ACI productions, like the excellent The Baltimore Waltz, Reckless and last season’s As Bees in Honey Drown. Director Ward Dales makes full use of the Joseph L. Bruno Theater (known locally as “Joe’s Black Box,” or “the Joe”), and the irony of the not-for-profit theater company using a theater named after the ultimate power broker. The 100-seat theater makes the perfect place to explore McNally’s complex play about the journey of upper-class white women through pretense and hypocrisy, as highlighted against the backdrop of enlightened Hindu philosophy and the wonders of India.

A Perfect Ganesh begins with the Hindu god Ganesha (Rocky Bonsal) smiling beatifically at the audience, addressing them in the soothing tones of a eunuch’s mantra, conducting the audience through the Indian travels of high-strung Margaret Civil (Cynde Schwartz) and her best friend, the perpetually disorganized Katharine Brynne (Carol Charniga). As Ganesha soothingly giggles, “I prove that the world is full of opposites which exist peacefully side by side.”

Though the overwrought-but-underdone pair initially don’t exist peacefully, by the play’s end they slide into a mental catatonia, which is mirrored by the audience. What starts out as a giggle fest shared by the audience and Ganesha (the elephant-headed god of wisdom, wealth and good fortune, who is blessed with the power to overcome obstacles, the perfect god for this play), ends with increasing silence. Through the revelations of the women’s homophobia, insensitivity and emotional neglect, through their encounters with India’s poor, its architectural wonders, and spiritual marvels, A Perfect Ganesh moves as the lord Ganesha wills: purposefully, initially with humor and insight, and finally with the focus of an acolyte who has just one more Watch Tower to hand out. By play’s end, the impatient Margaret seems patient, and the (literally) overly baggaged Katharine is left with just a box to sit on in silence. The Lord Ganesha beatifically smiles on and blesses all.

Director Dales has perfectly cast the play. Ganesha’s ganas, or servants (Gary Avanzato, Thea Carlson, and Emer Geraghty)—with their blue faces, gold-sparkle vests, green and blue skirts, red shirts and multicolored headpieces—are the set. They whip the stark, white parachute fabric that begins and ends the play with the alacrity of a belly dancer moving her navel. They play the play’s props—be they phones, planes or seats—with equal focus. Bonsal has the dream role of Ganesha, and he milks every laugh with a wry smile that lets us all in on the joke. Tim Dugan plays the Man, representative of all the men in Margaret’s and Katharine’s lives, including the Irish-Indian servants they encounter at all their stops.

As the tiresome traveling duo, Schwartz and Charniga capture perfectly the whine and shallowness of upper-class white women called for by McNally. Schwartz embodies the white-wine-on-ice flavor of professional wives with too much time on their hands and not enough talent: She alienates all in the theater with lockjawed Larchmont enunciations that drain all meaning from her words. Charniga is perfect as the matron all aflutter, a collection of tics and tantrums that even Lord Ganesha can’t tame. Dales has many smart touches in the production besides the sweeping parachute fabric whisked around the stage or billowed centerstage, and having the two actresses playing the moneyed but soulless matrons as if they were at odds with their very words, as if they attached no meanings or emotions to what they were saying, perfectly suits ACI’s A Perfect Ganesh.

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