There’s perfect metaphor for every live theater experience and for the San Jose Rep’s Disconnect, this metaphor was a giant novelty gumball machine. While that should be a totally sufficient description and require no further explanation, I’ll elaborate just in case … it is Monday, after all.
So you go to the grocery store and there’s this fun, brightly colored gumball machine. You approach with anticipation, deposit your money and you turn the crank. The excitement builds as you wait to see what flavor you’re going to get. And, here it comes; red cherry! Perfect, just what you wanted. And, so you watch the gumball, YOUR gumball, spiral down the clear plastic tube, down, down, down it goes, faster and faster, and as it makes its descent, your enjoyment starts to dissipate and you begin to wish it would just reach the bottom already. And, then it does and you’re excited again as you grab it and place it in your mouth. As you crack through the tough exterior of the gumball your first taste of that sugary sweet flavor is redemption for that seemingly impossible wait. You chew and chew and after some time, you realize it has lost its flavor. You chew it a bit longer, thinking somehow it will miraculously recharge and come back to life. And, your jaw starts to hurt. And, in the end, while there were in fact exciting moments of fun and enjoyment, you’re left with a wad of “dead” gum.
Like our gumball scenario, I think what I wanted out of this play, based on a 3 sentence description, was disproportionate to what I got and perhaps what is maybe even possible. A play taking place in a call center in India is brilliant in so many ways, but challenging in just as many. In this case, while there were great things about this show, the challenges I think won out more often than not.
There were plenty of things about this play I thought were fresh and new which is always a positive. The majority of the performances really were quite entertaining and showed depth and chemistry. There were spans of dialogue I found exceptionally engaging, exploring far more topics than I was expecting and doing so fairly well. There were moments of solid humor and genuine wit throughout. Technically, the lighting, scene and sound design worked well together to create a cohesive, faced-paced, visually interesting and believable environment. Thumbs up to the board ops too who were super precise with their timing and did a great job synching up with the actors to produce quick, crisp scene transitions.
While there were a number of excellent, more serious topics explored and layered into this show, I think this show would have been more impactful had it addressed the same topics almost strictly using comedy. Instead it spiraled down, down, down to the crazy and dark place, resulting in a piece that felt confused and inconsistent, leaving me longing for a much more comprehensible flow.
Much closer to 105 minutes than the 90 minutes stated in the program and with no intermission, the play felt long in several places. Some of the overlapping call center scenes felt repetitious making it difficult to follow one, let alone three simultaneous plot lines, which in turn made it harder to get attached to characters. I missed some of the character development and progression in the chaotic mix and consequently was caught off guard with the eventual bizarre and relatively depressing, tangential direction of the plots.
For all the wit and good ideas, the execution of the Rep’s production was yes, a bit of a disconnect for me personally. I’d see it for the ideas and the massive potential, but not expect the gumball to be anything more than just a gumball. 3 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a play that didn’t leave a bad taste on the review palate, but kind of left less of any taste than I wanted. Disconnect plays through April 14th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, Downtown.