AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Presented by TheatreWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA / (650) 463-1960

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Long-held family secrets and resentments surface in Rajiv Joseph's "The Lake Effect," presented by TheatreWorks.

Anyone who has spent a winter east or southeast of a Great Lake knows about the lake effect. It's heavy snowfall resulting from cold wind blowing over the warmer water and picking up moisture, which becomes snow. In the play, lake effect also has an allegorical meaning, which becomes clear near the end.

The action takes place during the winter in a dingy, now-closed Indian restaurant in Cleveland, along the Lake Erie shoreline. Because its longtime immigrant owner is ailing, his estranged son, Vijay (Adam Poss), goes there for the first time in 15 years.

While Vijay reviews his father's financial records, Bernard (Jason Bowen), a black man, comes in. He says that he always has lunch there and that the father, Vinnie (not seen), is his good friend. That's when the first secret comes to light. The ever-frugal Vinnie has taken to betting on pro football. As his bookie (Bernard denies that status, says he just place bets for Vinnie), Bernard wants to give him his latest winnings.

Vijay is dismayed when Bernard tells him that Vinnie never mentioned a son but that he often talked about his daughter. Soon Vijay's younger sister, Priya (Nilanjana Bose), arrives. Sibling rivalry is evident. Even more conflicts arise after Vinnie's death.

All three characters have their own issues and problems, but Bernard copes more effectively in part because of his optimism. That attitude gradually affects the siblings and allows the three to form a quasi-family.

Set designer Wilson Chin (with lighting by Matthew Johns) recreates the lake effect with several inches of snow piled on a car parked outside the restaurant as more snow falls. Sound by Brendan Aanes evokes the cold, blustery weather every time the door opens and a bundled-up character enters (costumes by Jill Bowers).

Although the emotions can run high, the tension is often leavened with humor. Sensitive direction by Giovanna Sardelli capitalizes on this ebb and flow.

All three actors do well, but Bowen as Bernard has perhaps the deepest role and mines it well.

This intriguing play runs just under 90 minutes without intermission.

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