The Lake Effect
Deeply-layered characters, rich performances
reveal family dynamic as troubling as it is vivid
|Silk Road Rising presents|
|The Lake Effect|
Review by Catey Sullivan
No doubt that every family has its secrets, but those in Rajiv Joseph’s compelling, funny and border-line tragic The Lake Effect are whoppers indeed. Directed with an able hand by Timothy Douglas, this world premiere provides a portrait of strangers and siblings forced to come to terms with each other after years of estrangement. Set entirely in a dingy Cleveland restaurant (think Formica tabletops rather than white tablecloths) Joseph’s three-person drama is skillfully wrought for Silk Road Rising, a complex, often surprising exploration of the ties that bind be they forged by blood, friendship or violence.
It’s no spoiler to note that death initially unites the small, fractured family at the heart of The Lake Effect in a manner both revelatory and troubled. At curtain up Vijay (Adam Poss) is going over the books in his dying father’s small eatery, trying to figure out just how the restaurateur – a man he remembers as all but pathologically penurious – could possibly be so stone broke. Enter Bernard (Mark Smith), a seemingly random customer insistent on getting a meal despite Vijay’s exhortations that the restaurant is closed. A complete stranger to Vijay, Bernard gradually reveals that he knows far, far more about the ailing father – and indeed about Vijay’s entire family – than Vijay himself. Their combative (on Vijay’s part) and confident (on Bernard’s) confrontation is at once charged and absurdly, bitterly humorous as Vijay is forced to come to terms with the fact that he, far more than the insistent Bernard, is the outsider in the room.
The third key component in Joseph’s drama is Vijay’s sister Priya (Minita Gandhi), a troubled, strong-minded young woman whose unhappy marriage is ultimately revealed to have played a surprising, critical role in forging the unlikely bond between her father and Bernard. With these three, wonderfully layered characters, Joseph creates a puzzle of interlocking pieces that eventually forms a most unexpected and emotionally fraught family portrait. Bernard might not be linked to the family by blood, but his relationship to Vijay, Priya and their father is nonetheless irrevocable.
Joseph’s dialogue richly captures the fractious relationship between siblings while deftly filling in the blanks surrounding the cause of the family dysfunction. Under Douglas’ subtly effective direction, the three actors succeed in creating a richly realistic family dynamic as troubled as it is vivid. This is a piece that evokes compassion, laughter and shock as it explores a family defined as much by its substantial rifts as by its bloodlines.
As Vijay, Poss continues to establish himself as a actor of depth and breadth (combine this performance with his bravura turn in Victory Gardens’ Oedipus el Rey and you’ll see an artist coming into his own with both formidable technique and bravura emotional intensity). Vijay is a mercurial, prickly character and it’s to Poss’ great credit that this angry, wounded, grieving young man comes through with such complexity. Vijay is the troubled fulcrum of The Lake Effect, and in Poss’ depiction, his frustration, confusion and sorrow shine through in all their contradictory layers. As Priya, Gandhi is equally strong portraying a young woman who masks a deep vulnerability with a deceptively defensive wall of tough self-sufficiency.
Finally, there’s Smith as the warm-hearted, stubborn Bernard. Of the three, he’s the most obviously damaged, a man-child whose close friendship with Priya and Vijay’s father is the result of a violent altercation that serves as the most toxic secret of all. Smith is marvelous, crafting a character who is defined by loyalty, a strong sense of self-preservation and a demeanor that is ever-so-slightly simple and childlike.
The Lake Effect continues through May 26th at Chicago Temple’s Pierce Hall, 77 W. Washington (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays-Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are $35, and are available by phone (312.857.1234 x201) or online through OvationTix.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at SilkRoadRising.org. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Timothy Douglas (director), Dan Stratton (set), Sarah Hughey (lighting), Janice Pytel (costumes), Rick Sims (sound), Jesse Gaffney (props), Neal Ryan Shaw (dramaturg), John Grant-Phillips (asst. director), Caitlin Duerinck (production manager), Corey Pond (production manager, asst. director), Ellie Humphrys (master electrician, asst. lighting), Joe Dybdal (tech director), Jamil Khoury, Malik Gillani (producers), Kelly A. Claussen (asst. stage manager), Sarah Ibis (program book editor), Al Gillani (box office manager), Brandon Allen (arts management intern), Christina Wong (graphic arts volunteer), Deann Baker (video editor/coordinator), Michael Brosilow (photos)