Sometimes the person you need to meet is not the person you'd choose to encounter. That is, in essence, the premise of "The Lake Effect," the 2013 play by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph. A beautifully unfolding chamber drama, directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, "The Lake Effect" gives audiences an unflinching glimpse into a family fractured and then reunited by death.
Siblings Vijay and Priya haven't spoken in ages, but they find themselves back at their family's Indian restaurant in Cleveland when their father, Vinod, suddenly decides to sell the place. Vijay arrives first, and he soon after meets an unsettling stranger, Bernard. Claiming to be a friend of Vijay's dad, Bernard knows intimate details from Vijay's family history, even revealing secrets previously unknown to the oblivious son.
The affable (if somewhat overwhelming) Bernard -- played with spellbinding vitality by the charismatic Clinton Lowe -- is the ideal, instigating foil to Neimah Djourabchi's uptight, easily irritated Vijay.
Once Priya, played by Lipica Shah, arrives amidst an ever-present and particularly nasty snowstorm, what was an already murky soup bubbling with confusion and jealousy becomes a complicated stew of familial sniping. These tense moments are sporadically eased by bouts of light-hearted nostalgia and the connection to their late mother, but Vijay and Priya quickly resume their attitudes of mutual distrust and resentment. By the time the full reality of Vinnie's relationship to Bernard is revealed, the three people are inextricably linked by their ties to this complex, secretive, and flawed father figure.
Joseph's script is highly engaging, with a fine sense of pacing and subtle humor that lends humanity to characters that are often less than endearing. And yet, oddly, the most moving moments were entirely wordless -- when Vijay and Priya pack up the restaurant in silence.
The trio of actors have clearly developed a tightly wound chemistry. While Djourabchi and Shah bristled with icy hostility, Lowe's earnest congeniality warmed the frigid atmosphere. The balance was near-perfect, and a tenor of uncertainty kept the story's resolution in doubt at all times.
"The Lake Effect" is an intelligent, empathic look at dysfunction and unlikely bonds, ultimately prescribing the rejection of anger and the value of connection over pride and possessions. The fact that it is also a play about American people of color makes it all the more relevant.