Comedy in the Quest for Meaning and Happiness

By John Glore
Courtesy of South Coast Repertory

Dipika Guha’s Yoga Play is a provocative comedy that derives ample humor from the collision of personal authenticity and spiritual well-being with the drive for corporate success.

Jojomon, a company that manufactures high-end yoga apparel and accoutrements, has a new CEO. Joan was brought in after the previous CEO gave the company a public-relations black eye by blaming the unfortunate transparency of their most recent line of yoga pants on the size of women’s thighs. It turns out fat-shaming is not a good marketing strategy.

Joan has some ideas about how to redeem the company’s reputation ​and—and in truth, she needs some professional redemption herself, after a breakdown cost her her previous executive position with an international coffeehouse chain. Working with Jojomon execs Raj and Fred, Joan convinces the company’s chairman to let her begin manufacturing their apparel in larger sizes, arguing that this will spread yogic joy to a whole new clientele and will convince the existing Jojomon “family” of customers that the company doesn’t disregard anyone based on their body type.

Dileep Rao and Tim Chiou in South Coast Repertory's 201​7 ​world premiere production of ​​Yoga Play by ​Dipika Guha. Photo by ​​Tania Thompson/SCR. Dileep Rao and Tim Chiou in South Coast Repertory’s 201​7 ​world premiere production of ​​Yoga Play by ​Dipika Guha. Photo by ​​Tania Thompson/SCR.

Everything seems to be going exceptionally well for Joan and Jojomon, until another scandal breaks—and the company may never recover from this new public-relations nightmare unless Joan, Raj and Fred can come up with a rescue plan immediately.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but the scheme Joan concocts (and coerces her colleagues to participate in) is extreme. It will require Raj to come face-to-face with an identity crisis that has been quietly brewing for some time, stemming from the fact that, while he is of South Asian heritage, he grew up in the U.S. and has no connection to the language and culture of his motherland. But now Joan needs him to become an expert in all things Hindu​—fast—and she’ll stop at nothing to ensure his cooperation.

The play’s comedy at times explodes into out-and-out farce​—but it’s farce with a heart, because ultimately Guha wants us to care about the characters and their quests for meaning and happiness. She understands that we all sometimes feel as though we’re living in a farce amid the craziness of today’s world—and that maybe the cure for all that craziness must be found within rather than from outside ourselves.

Guha wrote Yoga Play with a commission from SCR’s CrossRoads Initiative. In keeping with the CrossRoads methodology, she began her work on the play by coming to SCR for an immersive residency, to investigate the Orange County community and aspects of the local culture. She was interested in exploring California as a longtime destination for spiritual seekers, a kind of Shangri-la for people hoping to find inner peace and happiness; and in particular she was intrigued with the proliferation of the yoga phenomenon in California.

Guha was born and spent some of her childhood in India​—the birthplace of yoga—where her school day included yoga exercises. But she had never taken any yoga in America until she came to Orange County. Her residency included visits to several different yoga studios, where she quickly learned that yoga as practiced in the U.S. is quite different from the instruction she received as a schoolgirl, which had been more like calisthenics and had little or no transcendental purpose.

While the primary pursuit of most California yogis may be flexibility and physical fitness, many are also drawn to the promise of spiritual well-being (or at least a kind of New-Age version of it), which was the original aim of traditional yoga, when it arose from Hindu religious beliefs some 3,000 years ago.

Nike Doukas and Lorena Martinez in South Coast Repertory's 201​7 ​world premiere production of ​​Yoga Play by ​Dipika Guha. Photo by ​​Tania Thompson/SCR. Nike Doukas and Lorena Martinez in South Coast Repertory’s 201​7 ​world premiere production of ​​Yoga Play by ​Dipika Guha. Photo by ​​Tania Thompson/SCR.

At the same time, Californians have become enamored of such non-traditional yoga paraphernalia as yoga balls, yoga mats, yoga blocks, yoga pants, yoga videos, etc – which can cost hundreds of dollars. The commercialization of yoga seemingly knows no bounds in America, where the industry that has grown up around this spiritual/physical practice generates more than $10 billion a year.

That intersection of spirituality and commodification, Hinduism and capitalism, fascinated Guha, as did some of the yoga practitioners she encountered during her residency, who seemed to embody the contradictions of a practice that began in ancient South Asia but has been enthusiastically embraced in a whole new way in the new world.

South Coast Repertory Company premiered Yoga Play, directed by Crispin Whittell, in 2017. The PlayMakers production takes the Paul Green stage March 30-April 17, 2022. Get your tickets today!