India is for Americans in Terrence McNally's 1993 take on Ganesh and grief.
The elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh serves as a puckish guide to India in Terrence McNally’s 1993 work. But Ganesh plays at the edges of the play; its central characters are two rather ordinary, and initially insufferable, wealthy white women from America.
Katherine (Jeannie Affelder) and Margaret (Elaine Carlson), traveling for the first time without their husbands, are hoping to find some spiritual answers on the subcontinent. Both women are grieving: Katherine for the murdered son whose homosexuality she was never able to accept while he was living, and Margaret for her own secret loss, long ago suppressed.
Ganesh (Michael Harris) moves around them, embodying airline clerks and hotel maids and subtly changing the women’s tightly-planned itinerary; a fourth actor (Phil Higgins) also portrays multiple characters, including Katherine’s dead son and another gay man in an adjacent room at their hotel whom she befriends as a clear surrogate.
The characters’ initial entitlement makes McNally’s first act almost too irritating to suffer. Without the buffer of their husbands, Katherine and Margaret bicker with each other and berate those around them. As the trip begins to soften them, Affelder and Carlson’s fine performances become more affecting. But that the role of India as balm for well-off whites goes completely unexamined leaves a sour taste in the mouth. McNally’s characters approach another culture expecting exoticized enlightenment; McNally’s India is happy to oblige.
Eclipse Theatre Company. By Terrence McNally. Directed by Steven Fedoruk. With Jeannie Affelder, Elaine Carlson, Michael Harris, Phil Higgins. Running time: 2hrs 50mins; one intermission.