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CAST’s ‘Guru’ worth meditating on

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • ‘O Guru Guru Guru’

    Carolina Actors Studio Theatre does Mallery Avidon’s comedy about, among other things, her youth in an ashram.

    WHEN: Through Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Also 2:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and 8.

    WHERE: 2424 N. Davidson St.

    RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes without intermission.

    TICKETS: $28 ($22 seniors, $18 students).

    DETAILS: 704-455-8542 or nccast.com.


The biography in the Carolina Actors Studio Theatre program says Mallery Avidon “is a playwright interested in the intersection of fact and fiction.” Proof can be found in “O Guru Guru Guru or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you,” a play that begins as self-revelation (or seems to), transforms itself into shadow puppetry full of Hindu deities and ends with a visit from a modern goddess: the Hollywood kind, a benign Julia Roberts.

At its heart, it’s about the main character’s internal tug of war between the security of a comfortable stasis and the need to grow emotionally and psychologically.

Lila (energized Cody Harding) addresses us for nigh onto half an hour, telling us of her past in a family of hapless hippies; her mother ended up taking her to an ashram for meditation (Avidon really lived in one), where she felt a sense of peace and belonging – but a peace that never changed or allowed her to challenge herself.

In the second scene, we see life at such a place, with calm-voiced Savita (hypnotic Lillie Oden) preparing us for a group session. Audience members may come down and sit on pillows (Avidon perched among them Thursday night) and hear testimony about the beauties of chanting, meditation and selfless service. Then we watch a deftly executed puppet show about Ganesh, the Hindu god who (among other things) helps us set out on new journeys.

At last, 30-year-old Lila reappears as an extra on the set of “Eat Pray Love,” where the amazingly amiable Roberts (Rachel Stroud) drops platitudes. Lila realizes you can’t go “Om” again and appears ready to move forward with more purpose.

The play doesn’t hold together in conventional ways, but it doesn’t need to. The direct address to the audience in the first scene immediately wins our sympathy; the recreation of the ashram intrigues us, especially when the robotic testimonials stop and puppets take over behind a lighted screen. The final scene makes the least impact, because Roberts isn’t a real person: She’s a trigger for Lila’s outbursts. (The scene isn’t satire, because Roberts is too well-meaning and too easy a target for barbs.)

Some authors write to share firmly held beliefs; others set things down in order to learn what they really believe. I had the impression Avidon did the latter when she wrote “Guru,” and I was happy to find out alongside her.

P.S. As you leave the theater, you hear George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” – an expression of religious faith from a man who studied Hinduism, set to a melody ripped off from a doo-wop song about a teenage crush. Surely this combination of sincere belief and simplistic pop culture is no accident.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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