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The soothing voice of Harry Styles will lead you in meditation for $14.99 per month. A YouTuber will school you on the importance of spirituality, but before you know it, she’s selling you matcha powder. Yoga, a rich, storied practice intended to still the mind, is now marketed as a mechanism for “sculpting” and core building, available to all for the modest price of $175 per month.
Contradictions like these abound in the modern wellness industrial complex. Everyone is manifesting, practicing, and meditating in an exercise dress. Meanwhile, Americans report being more stressed than ever. Yoga Play, which makes its regional premier at Keegan Theatre this April under the direction of Susan Marie Rhea, takes that contradiction and runs with it to hilarious extremes.
Written by Calcutta-born Dipika Guha and published in 2017, Yoga Play follows luxury athleisure brand Jojomon under the guidance of newly promoted CEO Joan, who built her career at a company where one can find many a “skinny drink.” Joan (Katie McManus) took over from Brad, who stepped down after saying that his company’s fabric wasn’t too sheer—some women just had thighs that were too big.
Sound familiar? It’s no coincidence that Jojomon rolls off the tongue a little like real-life legging empire Lululemon. In 2013, the company’s founder, Chip Wilson, caught heat for blaming claims of sheer leggings on the size of women’s legs. His successor was Christine Day—a 20-year veteran of Starbucks.
Yoga Play wastes no time immersing its audience into the corporate hellscape of Jojomon. A large mounted screen takes center stage (in a set designed by Matthew J. Keenan), and the play opens with a video call between Joan, executives Fred (Jacob Yeh) and Raj (Vinay Sanapala), and company founder John (Timothy H. Lynch). The Zoom-era antics that ensue—John is distracted by his dog, then accidentally flashes his underwear—may be low-hanging fruit, but the talented cast makes these old jokes feel new.
The show succeeds enormously in its exposition of Jojomon’s company culture, in large part due to yes-men Fred and Raj, both hysterical in their own right. On lunch breaks at the smoothie bar (where they drink things like a “fat-burning 100% organic corn husk rhubarb smoothie”), the pair chastise each other over not keeping up on their yoga practices, whisper the word “stress” like it’s “Voldemort,” and confide in each other about their increasingly absurd anxiety dreams. McManus captures the essence of the burned-out girlboss, while Carianmax Benitez shines as Romola, the L.A. yoga influencer of your nightmares.
Joan barely has enough time to catch her breath before Jojomon finds itself at the center of another scandal. This time, the company is under fire for outsourcing production to a South Asian factory that relies on child labor. Twitter feeds are projected across the stage, creating an anxious swirl of cancel culture as we see Jojomon’s crime send #whiteyoga trending. Joan deems the controversy a “crisis of authenticity,” so she embarks on a mission to find the perfect “guru” to restore Jojomon’s credibility.
The play’s first act is dedicated to this wild goose chase, serving mostly as set-up for act two, with some very funny moments sprinkled in. A phone call between a very Americanized, Indian by way of Delaware, Raj, and his off-stage immigrant parents, is one of the show’s highlights. By the end of act one, the three stooges finally have a guru on their hands, plucked fresh from a Himalayan cave. But Bernard (who Michael Innocenti portrays in equal parts earnest and cringe) is revealed to be, uh, not exactly what the Jojomon bigwigs had in mind.
Act II finds the team pivoting from finding a guru to manufacturing one, in proper capitalist fashion. Joan’s absurd plan B takes the trio to comedic heights. In one scene, Yeh made the opening night crowd howl as he played a mortified Fred pretending to speak Hindi. Benitez doubles up as an Australian influencer in another laugh-out-loud performance.
In addition to laughs, Yoga Play’s latter half serves up much food for thought. The show cleverly interrogates the distinction between cultural appreciation and appropriation, and asks who can lay claim to particular cultures and identities. The juxtaposition of Raj, who was born to Indian parents but is as American as they come, and Fred, an immigrant fiending for a green card after fleeing Singapore for being gay, underscores the nuances of immigrant and first-generation identities.
In some places, the show bites off more than it can chew. It references fat-shaming in the wellness world, but never satisfactorily delves into it. Joan epitomizes the girlboss, but her lean-in feminism never recieves the scrutinty and criticism that other topics get. And though Yoga Play inches toward saying something profound about the power of mindfulness outside of its profit potential, the show’s conclusion leaves a bit more to be desired.
Then again, it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions and gain clarity in a world that drains our attention and dollars at every turn. Yoga Play hits that nail right on the head.
Yoga Play, written by Dipika Guha and directed by Susan Marie Rhea, runs through April 23 at Keegan Theatre. keegantheatre.com. $45–$55.