baghdad zoo

By Melissa McKenzie, correspondent

As a family struggles to connect and navigate through its dysfunctional dynamic, three characters embark on a journey of discovery in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s newest production, “The Lake Effect.”

Penned by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph (“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”), “The Lake Effect,” named after a meteorological phenomenon that results in a deluge of snow or icy rain, pulls back the layers of its characters—Vijay and his sister Priya, played by Adam Poss and Nilanjana Bose, and their father Bernard, portrayed by Jason Bowen—to reveal their inner turmoil as they attempt to mend their fragmented relationships.        

"I think it’s this beautiful look at watching this family wrestle with that," said TheatreWorks Director of New Works Giovanna Sardelli. "In most of Rajiv’s plays, you watch characters struggle with anger, resentment, entitlement—whatever they wrestle with, but there’s always the hope and possibility that they’re seeking salvation of some sort."        

The characters in “The Lake Effect,” which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play, are stuck inside their shuttered Indian restaurant, where they wrestle with the past and ponder the legacy of their family business.

"The fun of the play comes from watching the characters interact," said Sardelli. "It’s just three fantastic actors, which I love because it feels to me that you get to know these people and you get to know them just like anyone else in your life. You see many facets of their characters, so it’s harder to make judgment. Just when you think you get this person, they surprise you, and that’s how most people are. It takes the entire play to understand them, and it ends very clearly. There is no ambiguity as to who they are."        

Joseph’s drama tackles complicated issues including race, sibling rivalry and parental expectations while showing Vijay and Priya strive to see their parents as more than just their parents and come to the realization that their father is much more complicated than they previously believed.        

The siblings are mourning the death of their mother, their difficulties with grief and reconciling with each other while maneuvering through the societal pressures of the characters’ native Indian culture and societal norms of America.        

Despite the challenges faced by its characters, “The Lake Effect” has a hopeful tone.

Joseph “has a very strong spiritual belief, so his plays always feel as if they’re deeper and larger and celebrating the human spirit, but you’re never being preached to,” Sardelli said. “There is always a character whose moral compass is tuned. There is attention to that and I find that really interesting. … I love the gentle tenderness of very simple gestures that are extensions of love or kindness, and I think the play, on a very basic level, really celebrates that.”

She added, “I hope that the audience takes that away from the play. I can’t wait to share this with the audience. I think that they’re going to enjoy it.”

"The Lake Effect" runs through March 29 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. Tickets are $19-$74 and can be purchased at theatreworks.org or by calling 650.463.1960.