Review: Disconnect (Victory Gardens Theater)

| February 11, 2013
Debargo Sanyal and Kamal J Hans star in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
       
Disconnect 

Written by Anapuma Chandrasekhar
Directed by Ann Filmer
VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Feb 24  |  tickets: $35-$50   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Despite impressive performances, show doesn’t quite connect

     

Debargo Sanyal, Minita Gandhi and Behzad Dabu star in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
Victory Gardens Theater presents
    
Disconnect

Review by Joy Campbell

India-based call centers have become the target of much collective American displeasure: everyone, it seems, has a story about a frustrating experience with an obtuse, script-reciting person with a lilting, sometimes impenetrable accent that belies their claim of a name such as “Steve” or “Daniel.”

Minita Gandhi stars in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Disconnect takes us to a collections call center in Chennai in 2009, where workers target American “marks” who have defaulted on their credit-card payments. We follow Avinash (Kamal J. Hans), a man whose age is declared a liability, and who is demoted from the coveted “New York” to “Illinois,” several floors down. The floor is windowless save for one small opening that overlooks a growing pile of trash, symbolic of the state of life in Chennai as well as a metaphor for the struggles of the workers to attain what they see as success. It may be a trash life, but they still strive to climb to the top of it.

The show revolves around three workers, Vidya (Minita Gandhi), Giri (Behzad Dabu), and Ross (Debargo Sanyal), who sit in a row making one collection call after another. Driven mercilessly by Avinash so that he won’t lose his own job, we hear their interactions via one-sided communication, mostly to good comedic effect. Star performer Ross in particular uses fairly unorthodox and hilarious strategies to get his people to pay. Through a deft use of the internet and improvisation skills that would make Chicago proud, he banters in a seamless American accent with callers about weather in Buffalo or the fact that he lives “a couple of streets over, on Berwyn Ave.” He studies Chicago via the internet and describes the life he would live there, from cruising the Loop to seeing Millennium Park (that the settings are familiar to the Chicago audience lends a perspective that literally hits close to home, and allows for some good in-jokes.)

Given the high-pressure, quota-driven nature of the work, we expect to see a lot of complaining about the job and a disdain for the Americans these workers call. Surprisingly, this is not the case. In fact, they show a lot of compassion for their marks, defending them to Avinash by pointing out the recession and expressing hope that Obama’s stimulus package works. Ross, despite his seemingly flippant cowboy style, is the most compassionate, and we see that he not only knows the balances of many of his marks, but their family situation as well. These people – educated, erudite, intelligent – love America, and dream of being American. When they adopt Western names and accents, it’s not mockery; it’s part of the job’s fiction, yes, but it’s an imitation that is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

When the line gets blurred between personal and professional, however, things go badly awry, from an outburst by Vidya that has dire consequences, to Giri’s unfortunate imitation of American reckless consumerism, to a mark who turns Ross’s very same strategy on him, with disastrous results.

Grant Sabin’s set reinforces the regimentation and cold impersonality of this environment. The actors move in a world of gray, black, and white geometry and right angles. Mac Vaughey’s harsh lighting underscores the sterility of the setting. The only splash of color comes from the red Coke machine in the corner, a sad beacon of American promise.

I wanted to like Disconnect more than I did. The acting was wonderful across the board, and the idea of the play is very human and powerful, but the pace of things and the one-sidedness of the interactions makes it hard for us to feel fully emotionally invested in the sub-plots on either side of the ocean. There are some wonderful moments: Ross’s fantastically smooth and agile manipulations of his marks; the irony of a collections caller, until now spending his time chasing people down for money, being transferred to the “welcome” department, where he spends all day welcoming new credit-card customers. Like the call center itself, there is a lot going on, and in the clamor some focus gets lost. After seeing Disconnect though, you may never hear a Hindi-accented “Tom” again without feeling a little more respect.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Disconnect continues through February 24th at Victory Gardens’ Začek McVay Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $35-$50, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at VictoryGardens.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Debargo Sanyal, Minita Gandhi and Behzad Dabu star in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

artists

cast

Behzad Dabu (Giri), Arya Daire (Jyothi), Minita Gandhi (Vidya), Kamal J. Hans (Avinash), Debargo Sanyal (Ross), Teresa Kuruvilla, Owais Ahmed (understudies)

behind the scenes

Ann Filmer (director); Grant Sabin (set); Christine Pascual (costumes); Mac Vaughey (lighting); Barry Bennett (original music, sound design); Dennis J. Conners (stage manger); Michael Brosilow (photos)

Debargo Sanyal and Behzad Dabu star in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Kamal J. Hans and Debargo Sanyal star in Victory Gardens Theater's "Disconnect" by Anapuma Chandrasekhar, directed by Anna Filmer. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Biograph Theatre, Joy Campbell, Victory Gardens, Začek McVay Theater

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