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A CurtainUp Review
A Perfect Ganesh
Homebody/Kabul lasts close to four hours. When it was produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the audience could purchase dinner during one of the intermissions. A Perfect Ganesh, currently revived at The WorkShop Theater, clocks in at a mere two hours and forty minutes, but the last forty minutes can feel like agony.
Certainly neither the director not the actors are to blame for audience impatience. Under Peter Sylvester's skilled direction, the performers deliver even the most repetitious lines as if they were fresh pearls of wisdom. The actresses who play the two travelers are especially wonderful. Charlotte Hampden is the sharp-tongued Margaret Civil. A woman of little patience and less sympathy, Civil refuses to recognize even her own pain. Ellen Barry plays the sweet, seemingly innocent and vulnerable Katherine ("Kitty") Brynne. Perhaps only her son, a gay man murdered by a gang of angry black youths, knew the more bitter, less attractive side of Kitty.
A Perfect Ganesh has a host of minor characters — airline and hotel personnel, Kitty's dead son — most of them played by C.K. Allen. In Allen's capable hands these characters are quite charming, but by the end of the play they all blend into each other so that they seem to be one character in different guises. It may well be that this is deliberate, but it certainly is confusing.
Presiding over all the action is the thoughtful, sometimes quite humorous presence of Ganesha (Gary Mahmoud), the elephant-headed Indian god of beginnings and obstacles, and patron of the arts and sciences. Mahmoud also plays several other roles — a Japanese woman, a Hindu maid. She easily slips into these personas.
The play has many wonderful moments. The interaction between the two women, at one moment catty the next comforting, both sets them apart and strikes a familiar chord with anyone who has ever participated in or observed female bonding.
The problem with A Perfect Ganesh lies in McNally's abstruse presentation and Aaron P. Mastin's vaguely Indian set, which gives the audience no clue where any of the actors are at any given time. Sylvester uses the entire theater, having the actors at times enter by way of the theater aisles. This serves admirably to bring the audience member into the action, but too often has them lost in a multitude of scenes.
The statement A Perfect Ganesh makes about human suffering and its inevitability, whether caused by natural disaster or human cruelty, is universal. At the same time McNally's insistence that humankind's only hope lies in compassion and confession is certainly moving. But he makes his point home so many times so that by the end of the evening many people may leave with a headache.