There are few things better than a sharp sun ray piercing through a window on an early morning. A glorious sunshine which greets a person every morning is a reminder of life’s simple pleasures, a slice of Heaven on Earth.
This type of experience is certainly not the case for Avinash and the crew he supervises at an Indian call center. When the sun rises for the rest of India, they are taking refuge after another all-nighter. And when the sun begins to disappear, it is time to return to work. Not that they see that sun, mind you. Their concept of time is only necessary because it informs them when calls should be started and stopped to the United States.
Anupama Chandrasekhar’s comedy-drama “Disconnect,” in its west coast premiere at San Jose Repertory Theatre, explores this convoluted world of bad Americans and their even worse credit scores. And while the show runs for about 105 minutes, it is a play that really runs in two halves – a lukewarm first and a much sharper and compelling second.
Avinash (a booming-throated Rajesh Bose) is feeling the pressure of New York City. According to Jyothi (a giddy Devon Ahmed), New York City moves much too fast for him, and the debt collecting is not up to standards. There’s also the pressure of a competing call center from the Phillipines ready to steal their thunder. So it’s time for Avinash to get to another state, one that doesn’t have a window – Illinois. Time to make the huge move – four floors up.
That floor is not exactly what Frank Sinatra had in mind when he sang of Chicagoans as “people who smile at you.” We meet three pithy debt collectors – the attractive Vidya (a forceful turn by Sharone Sayegh), the Dolce and Gabbana loving Giri (a connected Ray Singh) and the “American” call-center wunderkind Ross Adams (A gritty, visceral portrayal by Imran Sheikh) From the trios first meeting with their new sup, there are no desires to buy what Avinash is selling – Follow the script. Collect from your marks. No cell phones on company time. These are devastating requests for the crew who is extremely limited in their creativity, clinging to the only slice of phone call artistry they have left.
What makes this play extremely compelling is that Chandresekhar is clearly writing from an Indian perspective. Callers make deep personal connections to those who they are trying to collect from, and it’s not uncommon for them to give out lectures on wasteful spending. Clients are wise to be honest with their caller – don’t try to lie, they have all your receipts.
Rick Lombardo’s tight direction is at its best in the second half of the play, where he keeps the action fast and frenetic. Ross gets in over his head, falling in love with the client which leads to incessant calls and horrid choices in his attempts to save her. His choices put the entire company in peril, placing his fellow mates in a precarious position. Debt collection is not a glamorous position. As Avinash, who used to be such a morning bird, explains “We are scavengers, up all night cleaning up other people’s messes.”
But this is what they know. This is what they do. And this is the only future they have. In Ross’ case, he is the breadwinner for his family, providing valuable dollars for his brother’s education.
While “Disconnect” certainly has lots going for it, its convolution can be a tad maddening. There are so many issues at work here, they don’t always seem to cohere in Chandrasekhar’s script. The cast certainly reaches some compelling crescendos in committed performances and the three callers are adept at balancing each other out. But in other cases, situations seem to come up out of left field with no rhyme or reason, which undercuts the sharpness and believability of the story.
“Disconnect” is also a melding of a few different plays, namely David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” I was especially reminded of “Salesman” in the play’s opening scene, which reminded me of Willy Loman’s ill-fated attempt to ask his young boss about getting a decent salary. Clearly, these influences are at work here.
“Disconnect” draws from a compelling world, a world where pride for doing a good job is valued and honored by those who put a headset on for a living. Yet, being disconnected from so much – friends, family, the sun, takes its toll on a person. I mean, how else do you explain someone not wanting to get together with a friend on a weekend, because that would require one more phone call?
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
San Jose Repertory Theatre presents “Disconnect”
Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar
Directed by Rick Lombardo
The Word: Not always sharp and not always exciting, but certainly a compelling concept and some strong performances
Stars: three out of four
101 Paseo De San Antonio, San Jose, CA 95101
Through April 14th
Running time: 105 minutes
Tickets range from $10 – $74
For tickets, call (408) 367-7255 or visit http://www.sjrep.com