Where: Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
When: through Feb. 24
With a story line suited to a television sitcom and dialogue worthy of a Second City skit, Anapama Chandrasekhar’s “Disconnect” isn’t the ideal vehicle for heavy observations about consumerism and cultural differences or for the rather tragic, depressing turn it takes at the end. Anyway, the ins and outs of East Indian call centers already have been covered in movies ranging from the documentary “John & Jane” to the romantic comedy, “The Other End of the Line,” so it’s hard to see what this intermission-less 105-minute piece adds to the picture.
Chandrasekhar hasn’t figured out how she wants to focus the play, either. At first we think it’s going to be about 40-something Avinash (Kamal J. Hans), the hard-working by-the-book supervisor who’s being moved from the Chennai, India center’s New York floor to Illinois on the windowless fourth floor because of his team’s underperformance, a demotion handled by his younger colleague, Vidya (Minita Gandhi), whose Valley Girl manner adds insult to injury. But while Avinash tries enforcing strict discipline to increase collections of credit card debts, the business of this office, our attention shifts to his underlings.
Unlike their new boss, Giri (Behzad Dabu), Jyothi (Arya Daire) and Ross (Debargo Sanyal) have adopted American names, accents and personas to deal with their delinquent clients. Much of the evening’s limited humor comes from the tactics of persuasion and coercion they use in phone conversations that frequently overlap, so we hear only snippets. This technique is repeated in several segments and eventually becomes tiresome, especially given the uneven acting and Ann Filmer’s not very imaginative direction.
As the workers find ways to disobey their boss, the conflict builds between Ross, the super-collector, and Avinash, who comes down particularly hard on him, perhaps for not playing by the rules or because he sees the boy‘s potential and wants to mold him. In a twist totally out of keeping with his cynical, go-getter character, Ross also falls for one of his “marks,” an implausible development that dominates the later action and the slightly absurd, sad, not-at-all believable denouement.
Along the way, the playwright punctuates the proceedings with passages about how these characters see Chicago from half-a-world away. Calculated to push the buttons of hometown audiences, they include Ross’s fantasy about visiting the Sears Tower and mentions of several other local landmarks. The longing for Americanization also comes through in disparate ways, such as Jyothi’s disparagement of her dark skin and a hilarious July 4 costume party with Vidya dressed as Disney’s Snow White and Giri as a cowboy (costumes by Christine Pascual).
Grant Sabin’s set design captures the sterility of contemporary offices without being realistic, and lighting designer Mac Vaughey provides that artificial indoor light that’s simultaneously bright and deadening.
I didn’t find much to connect to in “Disconnect,” but Sanyal does give an energetic performance as Ross, the most fully drawn character, and that’s worth catching.