ACT II: A second look at area stages — “Disconnect”
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2013 8:32PM
Playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar
When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 871-3000; www.victorygardens.org
Updated: January 28, 2013 12:36PM
The American premiere of “Disconnect” at Victory Gardens Theatre marks something of a homecoming for playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar, a journalist-turned-playwright who is based in Chennai (capital of the South India state of Tamil Nadu), but earned a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001.
Set in a contemporary Indian call center, where upwardly mobile young professionals work the phones to collect debt from upended Americans, Chandrasekhar’s play, which debuted at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2010 and has since been produced in the Czech Republic and Austria, is about the connections and disconnections between economies and people on opposite sides of the world. Here is a brief e-mail exchange we had recently:
Q. Have you ever worked at a call center?
A. No, but I met several workers for my research, some of whom are my good friends now. I know one friend felt terribly guilty when some of her American colleagues lost their jobs to her team and she had to deliver the news to them, in person, in the U.S. And now I think it’s with a sense of resignation that she deals with news that her company is losing American contracts, and many of her own colleagues will be losing their jobs.
Q. What is the training like for the center workers?
A. They go through special training to “neutralize” their Indian accents and get the American lingo right. The best sources for them are cinema and American sitcoms (especially “Friends”), and they all watch CNN and Fox News at work.
Q. When you were living in Illinois, did you ever end up connected to a call center yourself?
A. Anytime I used a calling card to reach my folks back home there would inevitably be a screw-up and I would have to speak to a customer care executive, usually sitting in Gurgaon or Bangalore. Once I figured out what the call center agent’s mother tongue was, it was easier to get the issue sorted out. Believe me, I’ve saved a few precious dollars by speaking broken Hindi (I’m a Tamilian, and can just barely speak Hindi).
Q. Are you working on a new play now?
A. Yes — “Bay-Sea-Ocean” — commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre. It deals with the loss of family values and the abandonment of the elderly in India’s fast-developing economy.
Q. Do you have a favorite American play?
A. There’s a dearth of American playscripts in Chennai, so I confess I am not familiar with contemporary American theater. But among the playwrights I did read was Sam Shepard, whose work simply blew my mind. He creates visceral worlds, is daring in his craft and doesn’t write safe plays. My other big influences have been British (Robert Holman, Simon Stephens, Caryl Churchill), Indian (Mahesh Dattani, Girish Karnad, Mahesh Ehlkunchwar) and African (Wole Soyinka).