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Theater Review: Cinnabar’s ‘Ganesh’ a long, sweet, fascinating trip

A mother’s unconditional love is not always simple.

Estrangement because of a misunderstanding or imagined pride can destroy the relationship, leading to guilt and melancholy regrets. In “A Perfect Ganesh” – which opened last weekend at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater - two wounded women are desperate for healing and forgiveness. Their annual holiday together, usually spent at a comfortable Caribbean resort, no longer seems important. Leaving their husbands behind, Margaret (Laura Jorgensen) and Katharine (Elly Lichenstein) venture to India, secretly hoping for restoration.

This realistic portrait of earnest, but unintentionally rude tourists does not shy away from petty squabbling between friends, sniping at each other over how to behave abroad, reminding us of the flippant racism that was common in the 1990s. It is this brutal honesty that infuses the characters with life, making them easy to connect with.

An eclectic mix of dry wit, light-hearted narration, and heart-wrenching realizations, “A Perfect Ganesh” has something for everyone. There is a laughter inducing airplane turbulence scene (with exaggerated “Star Trek” style acting), and quietly profound revelations about the past. Director Michael Fontaine has mined every subtle bit of humor, taking full advantage of the talented cast.

Projections and sets are simple but effective, evoking just enough of the setting. It is through the actors’ reactions of wonder and awe that the audience experiences locations. Wayne Hovey’s lighting design mimics natural sunlight, even visibly brightening when characters pull window blinds up. A rich sound design of rattling trains, distant crowds and car horns gives texture to the production, despite minimalist visuals.

Jorgensen and Lichenstein give exemplary performances, filled with humor and heart. John Browning. In a wide range of secondary characters, appears as everything from disgruntled hotel clerks to mild-mannered tourists. He is especially captivating as Walter, Katherine’s son, delivering an engrossing monologue about his mother.

It is the playful narration of the Indian deity Ganesha (Heren Patel) which holds the wandering story together. His stilted accents are troubling at times, particularly when appearing as Japanese tourists, but there is a warm energy to his stage presence that is irresistible.

Playwright Terrence McNally has crafted a unique work, although it can be heavy-handed at times. “A Perfect Ganesh” is a fascinating play, but runs too long, losing momentum and dragging itself out to a sweet (but long overdue) conclusion. There is a naïve beauty to this play that is thought provoking. Jorgensen and Lichenstein’s exquisite interpretations of troubled women searching for meaning is well worth a journey to Cinnabar Theater, even with the belabored writing.

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