After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

Executive Suiteness & Yoga Lite

Jovanni Sy swansongs at Gateway with Canada premiere of Dipika Guha farce

All together, now, mindfully. Photo: Tim Matheson

Everybody needs samadhi sometime. But not everybody knows it.

In the icy fastness of the Hindu Kush, ascetic yogis devote a lifetime of “austerities” to attain samadhi, a mystic awareness of merger with All Being and Non-Being. But, for most Western yogis, self-surrender isn’t the name of the game; rather self-improvement in such forms as muscle-toning, calm-and-collected “mindfulness,” social connection or just a cool, new fashion “look.”

Goals like that are bankable to the tune of about USD 80 billion a year and growing. That’s the 2016 turnover of the worldwide yoga industry – enough money to attract serious corporate players. Yoga brands may start out as touchy-feely “family” outfits, but beyond a certain point they’ll need unsentimental MBA types at the helm. They can’t present that hard-charging face to the public, though, lest they turn-off the customer base.

That’s the dilemma facing Jojomon, Inc., the “personal enlightenment accessories” titan in Dipika Guha’s  satirical farce Yoga Play, which is now making its Canadian debut (after numerous U.S. productions) at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. National premiere though it may be, the local staging could be seen as a sort of homecoming for the 2016 script.

After all, as director Jovanni Sy writes in his program notes, “this is the “ground zero of Lululemon,” the yoga gear giant whose fat-shaming flap a few years ago bears more than a passing resemblance to Guha’s starting plot-point.

As in the real-life Lululemon scandal, the fictive Jojomon’s founder decides to go on long leave. To salvage the company’s tanking share price, he turns ongoing management over to a new female CEO, Joan (Lois Anderson), a formidable ceiling de-glazier who caught his eye with a lean-in style TED talk.

But, alongside Jojomon’s corporate crisis, Joan is at a private, secret crossroads in her own life. Her soaring career trajectory to date has so stressed her that she literally can’t breathe – she suffers chest constrictions, heart palpitations and fainting spells. It got so bad that her last employer – a coffeehouse empire – had to callously sack her after bringing her to the brink of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Ironic, then, that her comeback gig should land her in an outfit that’s all about “mindful breathing,” where she’s flanked by a pair of inherited adjutants (Chirag Naik and Derek Chan) ever-ready to stop in their tracks and ritualistically inhale/exhale whenever the going gets rough.

And the going presently gets way rougher as sales plunge after a BBC exposé of child labour at Jojomon’s Bangladeshi subcontractors. As an MBA case-method alumna, Joan remembers her Crisis Management playbook: what we have here “isn’t an ethics problem; it’s an authenticity problem.”

So the prescribed antidote would be a promotional blitz featuring some relatable poster child of yogic authenticity. Joan starts her search at what’s touted as L.A.’s premiere yoga studio, but abruptly stalks out when the presiding instructor (Christine Quintana) turns out to be “useless,” a prosaic Valley Girl. “Namaste, bitch,” the spurned yogini yells at the executive’s retreating back.

In desperation, Joan turns to her sidekick, Naik. He may be a twerp and thoroughly Americanized, but at least he’s a brown-skinned ethnic South Asian. Can anybody in his extended clan dredge up an unimpeachably authentic real-deal ascetic yogi from India?

Sure enough, some far-flung uncle comes up with just the right sage, plucks him out of his Himalayan cave, lines up the paperwork and bundles him onto a plane. Next thing you know, the savant is perched in the half-light of Jojomon’s executive suite, hooded and cross-legged on a swivel chair, expounding enigmatically in lilting Indic tones about the path to enlightenment.

Read More:

More in Theatre

Check Your Privilege @ Gateway, Arts Club

Intersectionalites: cyber-thriller "Cipher" and tragi-farce "Straight White Men"

Wrinkles in the mind

Bringing essays to life: Foster-Wallace, Suzuki/Cullis on PuSh stages

Notes from (deeeep) Underground

Cultch recruits Vancouver audiences into Burkett's "Forget Me Not"
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.