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‘Lake Effect’ sharply acted despite a faulty script

MinitGandhi Adam Poss Mark Smith star “The Lake Effect” Silk Road Rising.

Minita Gandhi, Adam Poss and Mark Smith star in “The Lake Effect” at Silk Road Rising.

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When: Through May 26

Where: Silk Road Rising at Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington

Tickets: $35

Info: (312) 857-1234, ext. 201;

Run time: 90 minutes, with no intermission

Updated: June 9, 2013 6:24AM

In his play, “The Lake Effect,” now in a sharply acted world premiere by Silk Road Rising, playwright Rajiv Joseph — whose “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” was recently produced by Lookingglass Theatre — has turned what in many ways is a standard-issue, heavily contrived, dysfunctional family story into something just a bit more interesting.

He has done this simply by replacing white Midwesterners with the thoroughly Americanized children of Indian immigrant parents. He then sits back and watches their interaction with a black man.

Does ethnicity really matter here? Do you get something all that different by adding a bit of curry powder to the lamb and rice? Not really, although it is fun to watch the fine trio of actors in this 90-minute drama: Adam Poss as Vijay, Minita Gandhi as his younger sister, Priya, and Mark Smith as Bernard, their dad Vinny’s unknown black friend and gambling companion. As for the sibling rivalry and the exploration of guilt that Joseph explores, it is easily universal.

Estranged from his father for 15 years, 36-year-old Vijay, a stockbroker in New York, has been called home to snowbound Cleveland by his dad. The man, in ill health (and then, in an awkward revelation, actually dead), informed him that he was planning to sell the little luncheonette with an upstairs apartment where Vijay and his sister grew up.

Enter Bernard, the man who, a year earlier, was brutally attacked on the street and “rescued” by Vinny. Vijay is hardly welcoming to this stranger who says he is still suffering memory lapses from the attack. And the more they talk, the more he is surprised to learn how much Bernard knows about his family’s history. This includes the terrible car accident that killed Vijay’s mother when he was just 12, as well as Vinny’s constant anxiety about the unstable, big-spending Priya, who lives in Florida with a volatile husband. Oddly enough, he never mentioned Vijay.

With news of Vinny’s death, Priya also returns to Cleveland. There is much arguing about money (the siblings have found various degrees of success in life), about Vijay’s abiding resentment of his dad’s dispersal of their mother’s ashes, and more. Priya, we learn, has been bankrolled for years by both her dad, and, until relatively recently, her brother. But the big question is this: Why did Vinny will all his property and savings to Bernard?

Joseph can write edgy, angry dialogue. And Director Timothy Douglas keeps things moving. But neither he nor his well-cast actors can compensate for a script that seems more like a construct than a fully organic story.

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