Chicago Theater Review: THE LAKE EFFECT (Silk Road Rising at Chicago Temple)

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by Tony Frankel on April 29, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


In meteorology, the phenomena known as Lake Effect occurs when a cold system glides over the warmer water of a large lake and dumps huge amounts of precipitation, usually snow, in the surrounding area. This weather pattern can occur anywhere, but it is especially hard-hitting in the areas around the Great Lakes, Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Silk Road Rising's "The Lake Effect."including Cleveland, the setting of Rajiv Joseph’s The Lake Effect. Chicago’s own Silk Road Rising originally commissioned this work well before Mr. Joseph’s leap to notoriety for his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (2009), which went from Los Angeles (reviewed here) to Broadway to Chicago (reviewed here). Now, The Lake Effect is finally receiving its world premiere, and while the result is more of a professional workshop than a fully-realized play, it nonetheless contains some of Mr. Joseph’s now-trademark aggressive and furtive use of language in a compelling scenario. Add to that Silk Road Rising’s terrific production values (as usual), and this world premiere becomes a recommended affair.

The aptly named play mimics the titular meteorological condition in that layer upon layer of exposition and truly surprising soap operatic reveals drive the plot about two estranged Indian American siblings who reunite Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Silk Road Rising's "The Lake Effect."at their father’s tiny restaurant. Although the father dies early on, The Lake Effect is less about the substantial issue of death, and more about the ties but bind. Mr. Joseph effectively stays on track with his theme: that past events forever shape one’s destiny (in this case, the death of a mother in a car crash). Admirably (and as he did with Bengal Tiger), Joseph also steers away from making his work an issue-based play. And even though there is a black character, a man who had been befriended by the now-deceased father, I don’t see this as a play about race: The themes of loss, love and connection are universal.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Silk Road Rising's "The Lake Effect."Adam Poss brings the exasperated, distant, confused and high-strung brother Vijay to life from the start when the African American Bernard, a surrogate son and sometime bookie to the dying father, refuses to leave the restaurant when it is past closing time. Poss has magnetic timing which brings much-needed humor to a character that could come off as irritating. Every time that Poss tossed out an incredulous “What?” it was filled with more layers than most actors find in an entire monologue.

As Bernard, a man with mother issues of his own, Mark Smith commands our attention whether in heightened moments of anxiety or introspective moments of stillness; Smith is a truly grounded thespian who never indicates where he is going because he is always in the process of discovery.

When the father dies, Vijay’s sister Priya returns with her own emotional baggage and soon the trio is caught in a cat-and-mouse series of confessionals and reveals. Unfortunately, Priya is the least interesting character – one that veers more Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Silk Road Rising's "The Lake Effect."towards antagonistic plot device than a believable person (Mr. Joseph has also littered her dialogue with “Shut the fuck up” and other retorts which simply don’t ring true). I couldn’t get a take on this character, who came off alternately “Ghetto,” “Wall Street,” and “Barbie Doll.” On top of this poorly-rounded portraiture is Minita Gandhi’s valiant but shrill and forced attempt to bring Priya to life. Sadly, she is practically devoid of nuance, subtlety, subtext and motivation. Regardless of the role’s superficiality, it is her job to bring more to the part than she did. Still, she looks the part and her determination is highly commendable.

Director Timothy Douglas wisely keeps the pace clipped and edgy. The convincing diner set by Dan Stratton looks clean and cheap, but I never got a sense that food had ever been served there. Sarah Hughey’s muted and frosty lights, combined with Rick Sims’ howling wind, never left us in doubt that freezing snow swirled around the restaurant.

Regardless of my misgivings, it is no small feat to have a world premiere be as effective as this – you may even be inspired to make that long-avoided call to your folks.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Lake Effect
Silk Road Rising
Pierce Hall in The Historic Chicago Temple Building
scheduled to end on May 26, 2013
for tickets, call 312-857-1234 x 201 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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