Earlier this year, I enjoyed playwright Rajiv Joseph's play "Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo," a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
And the same holds true when I finally caught a performance of the world premiere of Joseph's latest work "The Lake Effect," which, despite the play's title, is set in Cleveland, not Chicago.
It opened April 23, a fantastic production by Silk Road Rising Theatre Company, and closes on Sunday.
Directed by Timothy Douglas and performed at Pierce Hall at the Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington St. in Chicago, this is a spinning tale told with heart and soul.
The theater company's summary explains the plot quite nicely: "In a depressed Cleveland neighborhood amidst a fierce winter storm, an Indian American brother and sister, long estranged, are reunited by the sudden death of their father. Enter their late father's African American confidante and gambling bookie, and a slew of family secrets get unearthed. "The Lake Effect" sets in motion a complicated web of relationships and conflicts that challenge our perceptions of race, gender, and success."
Along the way, during this 90-minute, no intermission production, there's plenty of humor and heart, with lots of surprises.
The Lake Effect was co-commissioned by Silk Road Rising and Crossroads Theatre of New Brunswick, New Jersey, with development support from The Lark Play Development Center in New York City.
The three member cast deserves night after night of standing ovations.
Adam Poss plays the complex brother. He is believable and an emotional force. As his sister, Minita Gandhi delivers a delicate and determined portrayal of a young women desperate for a happy ending. Connecting the two is actor Mark Smith's riveting turn as Bernard, a restaurant regular guy with a passion and hope that leads far deeper than noticed by others at a first glance.
With the surroundings of Dan Stratton's set re-creating a neighborhood Indiana restaurant, this play is a powerful force that leaves an audience pondering long after the final bows.
The remaining two performances are at 4 p.m. today (Saturday) and Sunday. Tickets are $35 at silkroadrising.org or call (312) 857-1234.
Silk Road Rising (formerly known as Silk Road Theatre Project) creates live theatre and online videos that tell stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses. In representing communities that intersect and overlap, to advance a polycultural worldview.
I'm told Silk Road Rising is a creative response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Company believes the consequences of that catastrophic day are sure to reverberate for years to come, posing unique and urgent challenges for artists of all backgrounds, and inspiring to educate, promote dialogue, and heal rifts through the transformative power of theatre.
Company co-founders and life partners, Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury, felt galvanized to respond to the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments that swept the US in the aftermath of the attacks, and to challenge arguments surmising a "clash of civilizations." Their hope was to counter negative representation of Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples with representation that was authentic, multi-faceted, and grounded in human experience. That theatre would be the medium in which they'd "create change" was a given; a decision dictated by their mutual love of theatre, and Khoury's vocation as a playwright.
Their idea quickly expanded beyond the Middle East to encompass that vast geographical area known historically as the Silk Road; a territory stretching from Japan to Italy. Silk Road Theatre Project officially came into existence in summer of 2002, becoming the nation's first theatre company dedicated to representing such a diverse grouping of peoples and cultures.