Samsara

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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Lauren Yee, the resident playwright at the lauded Chance Theater in Anaheim is having the West Coast debut of her topical 21st-century comedy, Samsara. Performed on the Chance's newly inaugurated Bette Aitken stage, Samsara addresses modern-day issues of international parental surrogacy, labor outsourcing (pun intended), and the new mindset mandated by the ethics of globalism. What's more, it offers a talking fetus (Ray Parikh, sweetly mastering a challenging characterization).

Lee cleverly titles her surprisingly philosophical play Samsara, which in Sanskrit translates into “passing through.” In the theology of Hinduism and Buddhism, samsara is the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma. Under the lucid direction of Benjamin Kamine, the religious implications of samsara become amusingly entangled with the secular practices of human bonding as well as with questions regarding human bondage and women’s rights.

The set-up is simple. Try as they might, Katie (a pleasantly credible Jennifer Ruckman) and Craig (a naturalistic James McHale), a youngish married couple, find themselves unable to conceive a baby. The trying part is humorously enacted again and again. This not only provides a hearty amount of good-natured adult entertainment (this show is for more mature audiences), it also demonstrates that, depending on the circumstances, sexual activity can be more a burden and bodily function than a romantic pleasure.

After much fornication and frustration, Katie and Craig learn of a surrogacy program in India. For $25,000 or so, couples can rent the womb of an Indian woman, therein implanting the female “customer’s” egg and a donor’s sperm in order to incubate an embryo. In this instance, the sassy surrogate is named Suraiya (Anisha Adusumilli, as believable as a breaking-news bulletin as Suraiya, but overused in an inexplicable turn as an imaginary baby girl). In this peculiar residency program where the surrogates live in the clinic's dormitory, Suraiya aspires to be a real doctor who heals people, unlike the clinic's staff. This surrogacy is a means to achieving her goal.

Inspired by a true story recorded in the New York Times in March of 2008, Samsara is a fanciful conceit featuring a fantasy Frenchman (a charming Jason Paul Evans, who also plays the obstetrician at the surrogacy clinic) and a strange anti-bonding process portrayed between Suraiya and the unborn child. The talking fetus refers to Suraiya as “Microwave” and she refers to him good-naturedly as “Shithead.”

Bruce Goodrich’s scenic design efficiently evokes the feel of Katie and Craig’s Bay Area abode, as well as the sense of being in India. The multitude of sights and sounds are also well enhanced and reinforced by Jeff Brewer’s lighting design and Jeff Polunas and Ryan Brodkin’s sound motif, while Carole Zelinger’s costuming proves indispensible to the proceedings.

As current and comical as Samsara is, it is also a relatively new play, having been staged earlier in Chicago, and, therefore, has some rough edges and some foggy plot points, which should and could be worked over with minor rewrites. As it is, the 85-minute (with no intermission) play is thought-provoking and uniquely charming; it could be more focused in its delivery, however.

Samsara continues on the Chance Theater’s Bette Aitken Stage through May 31. The Chance is located at 5522 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim. Show times are Thursdays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 5 p.m.; and Sundays at 7 p.m. For reservations, call (714) 777-3033. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.ChanceTheater.com.