By Khalida Sarwari
A pair of local theater companies are adapting the works of two acclaimed playwrights to the stage, lifting the veil on the corporate world in one and examining cultural identity and Islamophobia in the other.
Directed by Mark Anderson Phillips, “Ideation” is billed as “part dark comedy and part psychological thriller,” based on Berkeley-based playwright Aaron Loeb’s play of the same name. The play follows a group of high-powered management consultants who are tasked with working together on a “morally dubious” assignment that leads them to question their ethics as well as each other, said Phillips. The play is both entertaining and timely, he said.
“It’s an especially interesting time to be doing this play as we start our journey into the dark epoch,” he said. “I think we’re sort of at this precipice where—do we just go on the way we have been and try to be safe and comfortable in our lives or do we actually take action and do something about it? And I think that’s more the central question of the play.”
Phillips has a personal connection to the play, having brought the character Brock to life on stage on four different occasions. The director, who last season helmed City Lights’ production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” has at least 20 years of acting experience under his belt, here in the Bay Area as well as in Seattle, New York and Scotland. He’s the recipient of three Bay Area Drama Critics’ Circle awards and recently, a Theatre Bay Area award. He said sitting in the director’s chair has given him a different perspective on the play.
“One of the things that I think is really important about this play is that it’s comic but it’s also serious,” Phillips said. “I think of Aaron’s writing of having qualities like the Coen brothers. I’ve been mindful of keeping that sort of thing going. It needs to be exciting and suspenseful, but it also needs to be funny.”
The cast includes City Light’s executive artistic director Lisa Mallette in the role of Hannah and newcomer Sunny Moza who portrays Sandeep. George Psarras (Brock), Max Tachis (Scooter) and Tom Gough (Ted) round out the cast. Scenic design is by Ron Gasparinetti, costume design is by Jane Lambert and lighting is by Nick Kumamoto.
The San Jose Stage Company will bring Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Disgraced” to life with the help of director William Ontiveros, whose first foray working with the playwright was on Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand.”
“With all that’s going on in the world, I think this is a good play to examine the fear we have toward Islam,” Ontiveros said. “The theater is a good place to do it; it really is.”
“Disgraced” tells the story of Amir Kapoor (Damien Seperi), who is living the American Dream and quickly climbing the corporate ladder at his powerful Manhattan law firm. When he and his artist wife, Emily (Allison Rich), host a dinner party for friends and colleagues, the evening quickly erupts into a volatile debate over race, religion and class. Because the production contains elements of sitcom comedy, suspense and drama, Ontiveros said some have referred to the play as a “modern day Othello.”
“It’s a play that’s dealing with identity,” he said. “It deals a lot with questions of religion, race and loss of identity in a contemporary world. (It’s about) people who are trying to understand where they fit in in America. They’re all Americans, so we’re dealing with American characters.”
The cast includes Salim Razawi, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn and Jonathan Rhys Williams. Scenic design is by Guilio Cesare Perrone, costume design is by Abra Berman and lighting is by Maurice Vercoutere.
“Ideation” runs Jan. 19-Feb. 19 at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is no performance scheduled for Jan. 22.
Tickets are $19 to $42, with discounts for seniors, students and educators and groups. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Center for Justice & Accountability, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works against human rights abuses, including torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity. For more information, visit cltc.org or call 408-295-4200.
“Disgraced” runs Feb. 4-26 at The Stage, 490 S. 1st St., San Jose. Showtimes are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $30 to $65. Contact the San Jose Stage Company box office at 408-283-7142 or visit thestage.org for more information.