Anne Galjour sets her new comedy #GetGandhi (through Aug. 26 at Z Space) squarely in present-day San Francisco. Citing #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements, her play reevaluates the allegation that Mahatma Gandhi’s celibacy, or the Hindi practice of brahmacharya, was a cover for his sexual perversity. According to Miriam (Patricia Silver), an academic and de facto leader of the coven Galjour conjures up, the same Gandhi who led India to self-rule in 1947 also asked young women to sleep naked next to him so he could test his resolve. It pisses Miriam off that there’s a statue of this “psychic rapist” in front of the Golden Gate Ferry Terminal. She’s convinced herself and her two closest friends, Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen) and Maya (Miranda Swain), that removing it will right his wrongdoing.
The particulars of #GetGandhi’s plot points are informed by this political moment in time. Galjour draws a circle around the events and places them inside of a time capsule marked with today’s date in large, indelible ink. Her dialogue contains the snap and zest of buzzwords from the current zeitgeist. What lends the play its pathos is the playwright’s knowledge of Bay Area history. Galjour, a lecturer in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, has lived in San Francisco since the late 1980s. When Helen and her husband Bob (Howard Swain) talk about the possibility of losing the rent-controlled apartment they’ve lived in for 35 years, it’s their experience as struggling artists in the city that adds verisimilitude to the play. In addition to her critique of changing economic and political realities, Galjour bears witness to the city’s past as a haven for the counterculture.
After suffering from daily fits of pique and hand-wringing over the best way to fight the patriarchy, the women band together like a trio of furies to flay the innards of an immoral man. Or, in this case, a statue dedicated to the memory of an immoral man. Tired of armchair activism, Miriam hatches a plan to tear down the statue. Having been jailed in the past for protesting, Miriam’s unafraid of going to prison. Maya, the youngest of the bunch and one of Miriam’s former students, is game for anything. Helen initially has some reservations about the scheme. When she asks Bob if they can borrow his truck for the heist, she meets his male resistance with hurt and then with determination. If her husband, espousing common sense about the consequences of breaking the law, won’t support her then perhaps her daughter Rebecca (Lyndsy Kail) will.
Galjour’s facility with character development adds something uncommon to the familiar storyline of an amateur heist. Rebecca has rebelled against her rebellious, hippie parents by moving to the suburbs and marrying a conservative lawyer. Instead of boiling her character down to a stand-in for every smug Republican, the playwright fills in Rebecca’s backstory. We hear it from her point of view and, with even more nuance, from her father, who raised her as a stay-at-home dad. This arrangement allowed Helen to pursue her interests outside of their shared domesticity. Rebecca, not unjustly, keeps her mother at arm’s length and is not interested in her mother’s latest cause célèbre. It’s Bob, a retired dancer and one-time Cockette, who acts as the peacemaker between them.
As the play progresses, Galjour adds different patterns and colors to the psychological profiles of her characters, as if she’s been holding a carefully calibrated kaleidoscope. She has the ability to make the audience reconsider our first impressions and preconceived notions about any given character. Even Maya, the sole millennial, has a monologue that deepens our experience of her brashness. Cohen and Howard Swain are especially well-matched as a devoted couple in it for the long haul. Both actors find the right amount of humor and humanity in the situation their characters find themselves in. They may be at the center of a comedic caper that gets way out of control but the stability of their love is never in question. The furies may be able to bring the patriarchy down on their own but, Galjour suggests, it’s not such a bad thing to have the support of a male feminist too.
#GetGandhi, through Aug. 26, at Z Space, 450 Florida St. $15-$25; 415-626-0453 or zspace.org/getgandhi