‘A Perfect Ganesh’: A tale of hatred and healing

Clockwise from top left, Segun Akande, James Rana, Mona Hennessy and Linda Setzer co-star in "A Perfect Ganesh" at Luna Stage in West Orange through Feb. 22.


Clockwise from top left, Segun Akande, James Rana, Mona Hennessy and Linda Setzer co-star in “A Perfect Ganesh” at Luna Stage in West Orange through Feb. 22.

Katharine and Margaret are middle-aged women who often vacation together, usually with their husbands at some idyllic beach resort. This time, they’ve decided leave their spouses at home, and go to India.

“I heard it can heal,” says Katharine, whose son has recently died. Margaret has a serious health issue, as well as a dark secret in her past, so she’s in need of healing, too, though, as the more skeptical of the two, she’s less forthcoming about it.

And so they set off. And have quite an eventful trip. And do find a sort of healing, though, perhaps, not in the manner they expected.

The Terrence McNally play — currently being presented at the Luna Stage in West Orange — premiered off-Broadway in 1993, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. But it is not produced very often these days, perhaps because Katharine and Margaret are such unpleasant characters they create an emotional distance for the viewer that’s hard to surmount. Margaret is uptight and supercilious, and while Katharine initially seems warmer and more easy-going, we eventually learn that a cauldron of racist and homophobic sensibilities lies just below her surface.

Margaret is stunningly rude near the start of the play, Katharine startlingly hateful, later. These two travel-mates don’t even like each other very much, and it’s easy to see why.

Mona Hennessy, as Katharine, and Linda Setzer, as Margaret, create vivid portraits, and don’t try to smooth out their characters’ rough edges (though it’s hard to see how they could, given the material). Rounding out the cast are Segun Akande in various male supporting roles (airline clerk, hotel manager, various tourists and relatives of the two women, etc.) and James Rana as the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha, who takes an interest in the women and seems to guide them towards a kind of positive resolution. He actually seems more human than they do: He’s mischievous, but also wise (in a wryly philosophical kind of way) and kind. Much of the play’s low-key humor comes from him.

The women feel bombarded in India by the sights, the smells, the hordes of people. Similarly, there’s a lot going on in this play, on many different levels: personal, sociopolitical, spiritual. Akande changes characters so often they sometimes seem to merge into each other. Ganesha also takes human form, from time to time, to interact with the women.

Director James Glossman keeps everything running smoothly and efficiently. There are also some clever touches with the staging, with suitcases, for instance, morphing into airplane seats.

“A Perfect Ganesh” will give you a lot to think about, though ultimately, I believe, this is a play destined to be more respected than loved.

“A Perfect Ganesh” runs through Feb. 22. For information, visit lunastage.org.


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