'Getting There' - world premiere debuts at NCTC; 'tick tick BOOM' postponed

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023
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Laura Domingo and Lauren Andrei Garcia in 'Getting There' <br>(photo: Lois Tema)
Laura Domingo and Lauren Andrei Garcia in 'Getting There'
(photo: Lois Tema)

"Getting There," Dipika Guha's shifting, shimmering new play is an elegant work of Rubik's Cubism. Instead of six colors, the play —commissioned by the New Conservatory Theatre Center, which officially opens its world premiere production on January 28— asks its characters and audiences to puzzle over a half-dozen abstract but interrelated concepts: loneliness, desire, friendship, love, guilt, and aging.

These themes twist and turn in each other's presence; jostling, harmonizing and sharing space in sometimes comfortable, sometimes clashing combinations. The play manages to successfully meld the cerebral and the melodramatic.

Set in Paris, "Getting There" revolves around five women of color whose relationships are gradually revealed over the show's intermission-less 70 minutes. Guha touches on railway connections and airplane flights, but the journeys she's fundamentally concerned with are the psychological and existential ones taken over the course of a lifetime.

The play unfolds in a teasing, non-chronological series of scenes that will repeatedly upend —or at least complicate— opinions audience members have formed about the characters just minutes before.

"We get unhappy when characters contradict themselves," said Guha in a recent phone conversation with the Bay Area Reporter from her home in Los Angeles. "It fights against traditional dramaturgy. But that's part of what I wanted to do here. Because we all sometimes contradict ourselves."

playwright Dipika Guha  

Experimenting with expression
While the Calcutta-born, Los Angeles-based Guha has worked in the writers rooms of television series, including "Sneaky Pete" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," she counts the experimental Irene Maria Fornes ("Fefu and her Friends") and Caryl Churchill ("Love and Information") among her playwriting influences. With "Getting There," she aspired to crafting dialogue that has an almost total absence of subtext.

"There's no pretense to these characters," Guha said, "They're emotionally transparent. I wanted to have their thoughts come directly out of their mouths. They say what they know at a given moment."

"Getting There" began as a very specific thought experiment for Guha, inspired by the queer writer and MacArthur Fellow Maggie Nelson's "Bluets," a collection of fragmentary observations and meditations that slowly coalesce into a dazzling, faceted coherence. Guha tried to write a non-linear, non-narrative play that reflected her consciousness while musing on the idea of friendship.

"Well, there's always a difference between the play you intend to write and the play you actually write," she said with a verbal shrug. "I started out capturing just thoughts and moments. But eventually these characters arrived."

Simone Bloch and Desiree M. Rogers in 'Getting There' (photo: Lois Tema)  

Spare, smart and substantial
Nonetheless, the play's quick transitions across time and place and some of its thrillingly irresolvable tensions carry a poetic residue of Guha's initial process. And the dialogue offers up juicy aperçus that could easily stand alone outside of any particular narrative context; to wit:

"When you travel with someone...you cannot experience your own self."

Even Guha's stage directions exude a philosophical bent. Describing two characters, her notes read:

"Julie. She is in her twenties. She has no idea how young she is."
" Ira. She is in her late thirties. She has every idea of her age and then some."

Asked whether she considers her creative approach to be more emotional or intellectual, Guha said, "I think my work comes from exactly the place where those notions meet, exploring intellectual questions that have their roots in emotional moments."

"Even at times when I may be more intellectually inclined, in playwriting you're always dealing with actors' bodies and how words and ideas end up being expressed. So there's always an emotional component there."

"I will say that I don't think of myself as sentimental," Guha said. "I reject a lot of sentimentality in writing."

Indeed, even as the characters in "Getting There" grapple with issues as potent as abortion, sexual identity and declining health, Guha keeps them in moment-to-moment forward motion, never wallowing or reminiscing.

The contemplative, premonitory minimalism of "Getting There" marks a significant leap forward in Guha's playwriting from her idea-packed but over-embellished comedy "Yoga Play," which was produced at the San Francisco Playhouse in 2019.

With "Getting There," Dipika Guha has arrived.

'Getting There,' through Feb. 26. Wednesday nights preshow includes Parisian piano stylings by Suzanne 'Kitten on the Keys' Ramsey, 7pm-8pm. $25-$65. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., lower level. (415) 861-8972 www.nctcsf.org

Chris Morrell in an advance publicity photo for NCTCSF's rescheduled production of 'tick tick...BOOM!' (photo: Lois Tema)  

'tick, tick...BOOM!' postponed

While "Getting There" is on schedule with previews and its opening, in the Decker Theatre, flooding from the early January rain storms damaged that stage, forcing a delay in production of a Jonathan Larsen musical.

"It is with much regret that we must postpone 'tick, tick...BOOM!' by Jonathan Larson," write Scott Tignor, Patron Experience Manager on the theater company's website. "San Francisco's recent rain storms have been incredibly damaging to our space and unfortunately it will take additional time to fix the extensive repairs in the Decker Theatre."

The musical, scheduled to run March 3 through April 1, will be rescheduled for later in 2023.

— Jim Provenzano

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