Tuesday June 27th 2017

“Disconnect”

Sanyal, DabuHow often do we get a phone call, or even make a phone call that involves an American firm; either customer service, or to place an order or even about a bill we owe, where the call is being made from another country? The truth of the matter is, almost always! Due to economic reasons, many American firms have outsourced these jobs to India, the Philippines or Asia. It does seem that India is the winner of these countries because of the lower wages they will accept, the longer hours they are willing to work and the fact that many of these people speak English. In “Disconnect”, now in its American Premiere, now on stage at Victory Gardens Theater, playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar, takes us into this world that we only hear about.

The time is 2009 ( although it could be anytime in the last decade) and the action takes place in Chennai,India in a call center. The set by Grant Sabin, is a modernistic, large room with workstations ( desks to simplify staging) are placed in a way where the “call Center” employees can do “turn-overs” ( one agent handing the line over to another to close the deal) and at the back of the room, a chart showing who is leading in “closes”. Directed by  Ann Filmer, who attempts to strengthen the script by using the stage quite well, we get the idea that we are in a high rise building where each floor represents another geographical area of the Unites States. At the very beginning , we meet Avinash ( well played by Kamal J. Hans), an older gentleman who has been working in “New York”, but not meeting goals so they are transferring him to “Illinois”, a less pressure market as the firm collects for United States credit card companies. He will now be a supervisor over three bright and energetic collectors, Vidya (Minita Ghandi) ,Giri (Behzad Dabu and Ross (DeBargo Sanyal). Since their “territory ” is Illinois, they have Americanized themselves and as the opening number of “The Music Man” states, ” You Gotta Know The Territory”. They appear to have it all down pat!. They speak with American accents and have studied the geography of the state and major cities and landmarks, so when they speak to their clients, they appear to be calling from anywhere USA. I had a slight problem with those being called being referred to as “Marks”. Since the collectors are calling people who are in debt to their client, the use of the word “mark” is in error. A “mark” is what a con-man might call those they are trying to cheat- these people owe the money and the only similarity would be that those who are being called are being tricked as to who is calling them.                                                                                             Sanyal, Hans horiz

The business of out-sourcing is one that requires bright and aggressive people as the firms that hire outsourcers, if unhappy, will find others to take on the task, and in this case, upper management Vidya ( Arya Daire) pulls no punches as she fears the loss of this major bank card to the Philippines ( who are aggressive). The workers spend each 12 hour day, acting as Americans and start to think as they do. They dream the American Dream ad want all the items that these “deadbeats” have not paid for: Fancy cars, fancy clothes, boats, jewelry and more. Jyothi wants to be white instead of brown and have a more romantic life; Giri wants to be a “cool American” and Ross falls into the worst of all scenarios; he begins to believe the words he uses to “close the deal”. Ross, in trying to track down a debtor, finds himself entranced by her voice and her story and over the calls he makes to her begins what he calls a “relationship”. So lost in his desire for this other life, he does things that he should not do and the result of his  disconnection from reality causes great harm to each and every character in the story.

The actors are all powerful with Mr. Sanyal delivering the broadest performance. There are times that Ross becomes an American in not only how he speaks, but his mannerisms and attitudes. His relationship with his co-workers is solid enough to begin with, his being the leader of the pack in numbers, but as his adoration for the American Dream grows and his “love” for the woman he was assigned to, we watch him change towards his co-workers, his boss and even his own identity. We also witness a major change in each of the others as one of their “marks” kills himself over the fear that his family will be tormented by the “collectors”.  There is a lot of powerful drama in this tale and an ending that you may not see coming!

There is a great deal of tension in the buildup of the transgressions and the  effects, but since what happens is important to the ending, I will not divulge it all here, so as not to destroy how Filmer and Chandrasekhar get us there. This is one hour and forty five minutes ( no intermission) filled with witty drama and a story that opens our eyes to what can happen to a group of people who are forced to live a lie in order to ear a living. Again, they are not stealing or scamming the people they call, only trying to collect a debt that is in fact owed by the debtor. It is the way they operate that makes them “hated” by the average person. They continue to call and make you feel like they are “here to help”, when all they want is to “close the deal”.

The lighting (Mac Vaughey),costumes (Christine Pascual) and sound with original music (Barry Bennett) are the final ingredients to making this a solid production. While I  am not in love with the story itself, I find that there is probably more truth than fiction in it as our world is far different than the old ways and there appears to be a realistic flavor to the idea that these young people in order to get these positions, must adapt to the culture they are dealing with in order to hit the numbers.

“Disconnect” will continue at The Victory Gardens Theater located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue ( The Biograph) through February 27th with performances as follows:

Thursday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. , Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $35-$50 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or via the Internet  tickets @victorygardens.org or visit www.victorygardens.org

Students tickets are availabe at $15 and there are senior discounts as well as special 20 for $20 ( each day) and RUSH ( subject to availability) day of performance at 50% off.

There are also some dates with post show discussions which can be found online included with ticket and some pre-discussions ( again, check the site)

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to review round-up and click on “Disconnect”fp-disconnect1

 

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