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"Disconnect" Dials Up East and West Cultural Gaps

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by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $35-$50
Info: (773) 871-3000; www.victorygardens.org
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

The connections and misconnections in "Disconnect," Indian writer Anupama Chandrasekhar's elaborately wired play -- now in a Victory Gardens Theater production vibrantly directed by Ann Filmer -- are many and varied.

Most literally, the connections come by way of the multiple telephone lines that link True Blue -- a call center in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, that operates as a collection agency and pursues American "marks" who have failed to pay their credit card bills.

And then there is the English language itself, as plied by a group of mostly twentysomething Indian strivers (and one man old enough to be their dad), all of whom have absorbed the colloquialisms of their American marks in order to do their jobs convincingly.

The misconnections are far more profound.

There is the generational gap, which separates fortysomething Avinash (Kamal J. Hans, a most sympathetic sad clown), from Jyothi (Arya Daire, ideal as the fashionable harpy), a shrill, people-unfriendly manager who demotes him from head of a "New York team" to an "Illinois team." The latter is not meeting its collection quotas despite the best efforts of three bright callers -- Ross (Debargo Sanyal, volatile and intense), Vidya (Minita Gandhi, smart and enigmatic) and Gini (Behzad Dabu, fleet and sardonic).

There is a cultural gap, too, for despite familiarity with brand names, couture labels and all the lore of "America," there is a distance of experience and traditions. There also is the sexual gap, with Indian women coming in second for promotions and still being controlled by their fathers. There is the urban/rural gap among the Indians. And for at least one of the callers, there is a racial gap -- the difference between being white or brown-skinned.

All these differences feed a palpable desperation, especially as jobs are at stake, and as True Blue (neatly captured by Grant Sabin's sleek industrial set) now faces competition from a company in the Philippines competing for these outsourced jobs. And, because it is 2009, with THIS country's recession still in full swing, there also is desperation in the American marks who have maxed out their credit cards, lost their jobs or simply indulged themselves far beyond their means. It is time to pay up.

Chandrasekhar has written a play full of fast, brash, funny dialogue (much of it wildly overlapping and no doubt mind-boggling to the splendid actors). As the call center workers sit at adjoining desks with their headsets on, they alternately adhere to their "script-books" or, as becomes the dangerous case here, ignore them in favor of improvisation, role-playing and false intimacy. So, lurking behind all the comic, instantly recognizable "office behavior" is a very modern tragedy. And it definitely connects.

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This page contains a single entry by Hedy Weiss published on February 5, 2013 4:30 PM.

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