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A Perfect Ganesh

Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Michael Fontaine
Original Music by Christopher Ris
Choreography by Rann Shinar

$30  General
$28  Seniors: Fridays & Saturdays

The pilgrimage tradition is turned on its head when two outwardly unremarkable, middle-aged friends throw themselves into a rousing tour of India, each with her own secret dreams of what the fabled land of intoxicating opposites will do for the suffering she hides within. Who else but the golden elephant god could intervene? Fluid in his power to assume any guise, Ganesha is the spiritual center around which the play spins itself, drawing upon the tragic and the comic, the beautiful and the deplorable, until a breathtaking release arrives for both women.

This production is made possible by gifts from
Sponsor Circle Members
with additional support from



Heren Patel


John Browning

Margaret Civil

Laura Jorgensen

Katharine Brynne

Elly Lichenstein



Michael Fontaine


Christopher Ris

Stage Manager

Alisha Ramos

Set Designer

Wayne Hovey

Costume Designer

Ellen Howes

Lighting Designer


Sound Designer

Jared Emerson-Johnson

Specialty Properties

Donnie Frank


John Browning (Man) graduated from SSU with a BA in acting and has been consistently working as an actor in Sonoma County.  He joined Narrow Way Stage in 2007 and help form the company into a nonprofit as Marketing Director. John has worked at many local playhouses including 6thStreet, Main Stage West, Spreckels, Napa Valley Opera House, Lucky Penny, Left Edge, Glaser Center and The Cannery. Acting highlights include: BugRichard III, Julius Caesar, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grace, Miss Firecracker Contest, Noises Off!, Hedda Gabler, Antigone, The North Plan, Zombie Town, Shakespeare in Love, Hamlet, The Children’s HourBecky Shaw, Spamalotand August: Osage County for which he won a SFBAC award. His Cinnabar credits include Driving Miss DaisyArcadia and Time Stands Still.  John is thrilled to be working with Elly and the rest of the cast and crew on A Perfect Ganesh. Much love to his husband and family for all of their support over the years.

Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil) is delighted to be back at Cinnabar. She has appeared in many plays at Cinnabar over the years, most recently in Quartet, Driving Miss Daisy, A Clean House and On the Verge, and directed We Won’t Pay We Won’t Pay.  At Cinnabar, she also appeared in John O’Keefe’s premieres of Glamour and Queer Theory.  At Main Stage West she recently performed in Buried Child, House of Yes, Road to Mecca, 4000 Miles, Exit the King and Other Desert Cities.  She has worked with Undermain Theater in Dallas, Texas in Endgame and Really. Laura has created and performed nine shows with her husband, Fred Curchack, including Golden Buddha Beach, An American Dream Play, NOH: Angels, Demon’s and Dreamers, Monkey: The Quest to the West, Milarepa, Grandpa’s Home Videos and Burying Our Father: A Biblical Debacle.

LichensteinElly Lichenstein (Katherine Brynne) joined Cinnabar in 1975 after a short career as a cellist in Belgium. Studying voice with Cinnabar’s founder Marvin Klebe, drama with Richard Blake and Laura’s husband Fred Curchack, and movement with Ann Woodhead, she sang at least 50 roles with the company as an opera singer until retiring from the operatic stage in 1999. A passionate proponent of intimate theater and opera, she serves as Cinnabar’s artistic director, directs opera and musicals, including Cabaret, this season’s opening production. She also recently appeared onstage as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, and as Jeannette in Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life. Elly also directs and makes appearances on neighboring stages in the Bay Area. She will direct this season’s final offering,  The Barber of Seville as a co-production with San Francisco’s Pocket Opera.

A graduate of San Francisco State University’s Theatre Arts Program and a Native San Franciscan, Haren Patel (Ganesha) is super-duper excited to be in his first show with Cinnabar Theater. He feels super duper blessed because he gets to embody one of India’s most beloved and favorite deities. Hopefully, Heren feels he’s perfect enough for the elephant headed God, as Ganesha is the remover of obstacles. Heren was last seen in Indra’s Net Theater’s production of Partition as the real life mathematical genius Srinivasan Ramanujan. His other credits include: Faultline Theater’s #bros, Marin OnStage’s Ideation, Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site, CustomMade Theatre’s Of Serpents and Sea Spray, and Theatre Rhinoceros’ Breaking the Code.  In the near future, Heren hopes to one day move to Mumbai, India, the capital of the Bollywood film industry, and make more friends along the way. Heren would like to thank the Cinnabar team for blessing him with this role, and he would like to thank his lovely Ganesha friends for giving him a perfect fun time!


For the past 40-plus years, Michael Fontaine (Director) has been a singer, actor and director for numerous regional theater productions in the North Bay and beyond. He holds undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees with an emphasis in the performing arts. His Cinnabar Theater credits include directing numerous productions, starting with The Fantasticks in 1989 and continuing to the recent 2018 award winning production of Good People. He is pleased to once again be working on A Perfect Ganesh – one of his favorite plays – which he had the good fortune of directing previously for Cinnabar in 2000.

HoveyWayne Hovey (Scenic Designer) has been working in the technical side of theater for more than 40 years, doing everything from backstage work to set, sound and lighting design and stage management. He has provided set design for Cinnabar’s Jacques Brel is Alive and Well, The Marriage of Figaro, Bad Dates, Mahalia Jackson, The Most Happy FellaMan of La Mancha and cabaret musical My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, Cabaret and Love, Linda. He’s provided light design for more than 15 shows at Cinnabar, including The Magic Flute, The Odd Couple, Pagliacci, and the world premiere of Trevor Allen’s One Stone (Einstein), as well as last season’s The Fantasticks and this season’s Cabaret and Love, Linda. Wayne serves as Cinnabar’s Technical Director.

Ellen Howes (Costume Designer) has worked in film, theater, dance, and fashion. While she primarily works as a costume designer, she often designs the props and sets for the projects she works on as well. As a costume designer particularly interested in subtle parody and satire, Ellen hopes to someday work for a sketch comedy series, but has been primarily working in live theater and fashion photo-shoots as of late. An eccentric soul with eclectic tastes, it was only natural that Ellen was drawn to design, a career that allows her to continue to learn and create well after her educational career. Ellen’s previous theater credits include My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, Good People , The Great God Pan and Love, Linda at Cinnabar.

RamosAlisha Ramos (Stage Manager) works for several theatre companies around Sonoma County as a Stage Manager, Lighting Designer, and Props Designer. Her recent work includes Lighting Designer for Cinnabar’s production of Underneath the Lintel and Shrek, Associate Lighting Designer for Broadway Under the Stars with Transcendence Theatre Company, along with prop designing for their Holiday Show. Recent productions as Stage Manager include: Addams Family, Guys & Dolls Jr, Transcendence: Family Show, Amadeus, and Music Man. Perfect Ganesh will be Alisha’s 4th production at Cinnabar.

Christopher Ris (composer) began his study of sarod and vocal music in 1971 under Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. He has since performed as a soloist, with Khansahib’s orchestra The New Maihar Band, has composed music  for 3 films on life in India and an episode of the television series Young Indiana Jones. He has collaborated with flamenco dancer Rosa Montoya and flamenco guitarist Guillermo Rios and Necati Celik, principal oudist of the National Orchestra of Turkey. In 1974 he began a long lived relationship with the renowned kathak dancer Chitresh Das.From 1981 until 2000 he became Mr. Das’ primary musical accompanist and composer in residence for both his personal performances and his Chhandam Dance Company. Together they dramatically changed the style of kathak accompaniment, bringing the instrumentalist into the simultaneous improvisations with the dancer that were formerly the province of the tabla drummer alone. He has also collaborated extensively with his wife, kathak dancer and singer Marni Ris.

A mother’s unconditional love is not always simple.
Estrangement because of a misunderstanding or imagined pride can destroy the relationship, leading to guilt and melancholy regrets. In “A Perfect Ganesh” – which opened last weekend at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater – two wounded women are desperate for healing and forgiveness. Their annual holiday together, usually spent at a comfortable Caribbean resort, no longer seems important. Leaving their husbands behind, Margaret (Laura Jorgensen) and Katharine (Elly Lichenstein) venture to India, secretly hoping for restoration.
This realistic portrait of earnest, but unintentionally rude tourists does not shy away from petty squabbling between friends, sniping at each other over how to behave abroad, reminding us of the flippant racism that was common in the 1990s. It is this brutal honesty that infuses the characters with life, making them easy to connect with.
An eclectic mix of dry wit, light-hearted narration, and heart-wrenching realizations, “A Perfect Ganesh” has something for everyone. There is a laughter inducing airplane turbulence scene (with exaggerated “Star Trek” style acting), and quietly profound revelations about the past. Director Michael Fontaine has mined every subtle bit of humor, taking full advantage of the talented cast.
Projections and sets are simple but effective, evoking just enough of the setting. It is through the actors’ reactions of wonder and awe that the audience experiences locations. Wayne Hovey’s lighting design mimics natural sunlight, even visibly brightening when characters pull window blinds up. A rich sound design of rattling trains, distant crowds and car horns gives texture to the production, despite minimalist visuals.
Jorgensen and Lichenstein give exemplary performances, filled with humor and heart. John Browning, in a wide range of secondary characters, appears as everything from disgruntled hotel clerks to mild-mannered tourists. He is especially captivating as Walter, Katherine’s son, delivering an engrossing monologue about his mother.
It is the playful narration of the Indian deity Ganesha (Heren Patel) which holds the wandering story together. There is a warm energy to his stage presence that is irresistible.
Playwright Terrence McNally has crafted a unique work, although it can be heavy-handed at times. “A Perfect Ganesh” is a fascinating play. There is a naïve beauty to this play that is thought provoking. Jorgensen and Lichenstein’s exquisite interpretations of troubled women searching for meaning is well worth a journey to Cinnabar Theater.
–Alexa Chipman, Argus Courier

Two older women venture to India in Cinnabar Theater’s charming spring production of A PERFECT GANESH. The effervescent god of Indian folklore is now on stage through April 14th at Petaluma Cinnabar Stage. A PERFECT GANESH originally was performed over a decade ago at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and now has been given a Bollywood makeover by clever director, Michael Fontaine. However, the tale is more an Ugly American makeover than A Passage to India. The grumpy Margaret Civil played by the superb Laura Jorgensen and the sincere Katherine Brynne is played by local favorite Elly Lichenstein. They are two suburban matrons from Connecticut, who decide to go to India for a spiritual makeover.
Margaret complains she wants to “see India from a comfortable seat, somewhat at a distance,” she is a woman of little patience and less sympathy. Her companion is more enthusiastic. Both are excellent actors: Jorgensen is straight laced coping with her inner grief, while Lichenstein is “hippy cool”, eager to embrace any new experience. As the first act opens you are not sure you are going to enjoy these two Americans, but they grow on you, and McNally keeps the script fresh and Fontaine keeps the two and half hour buddy adventure moving.
Their tour guide is the elephant-headed Ganesha, Hindu God of wisdom and remover of obstacles. Ganesha appears either as himself or in various spirits, nudging the women onto the road to self-discovery and getting them to confront their own guilt about their past. Both suffer from homophobia and racism, and are living meaningless, comfortable, suburban lives. The terrific Heren Patel is a stately clever God, moving elegantly along the stage and is wonderful in the roles this awesome Ganesha takes. The women on their first night at a five star hotel in Bombay meet Ganesha as he becomes Asian tourists: “Be careful of India. Be very careful here. If you’re not, you may find yourself here.” “Man” is played by the transforming John Browning who plays over 20 roles including the women’s hotel servant who tells them in Hindi “for an extra 20 bucks I can f*** them both,” of course the women are blind to his ‘kindness’. Katherine speaks Spanish to him since that is the only other language she knows. Both women open the first act showing the Indian culture as much disrespect as they can muster up.
The script has a lot of dry humor and the story follows a linear timeline as the two women journey through tourist India. It is deeply spiritual as Ganesha presents the women with hurdles as “Man” challenges their beliefs in order to get them to face up to their hidden tragedies. Civil refuses to recognize even her own pain and Katherine deals with her son, a gay man murdered by a gang of angry youths. The darker side of “Kitty” is less bitter, but she has a 100 pounds of sadness about to explode at any moment. McNally’s writing is as bright and fast unlike many writers, he never uses wit to avoid honesty. He allows us to look right into the hearts of these women, and the result is a quite inspirational play. There are several scenes that are among McNally’s best. One in which the two ladies and a fellow tourist take a boat ride down a river and watch the bodies, animal and human, float by; it is almost too painful to watch. Then the wit and humor of lost American Katherine, who says, “I am your basic white trash – I shopped my tits off today” and their guide responds “is that the same as jugs?”
Fontaine moves his actors well on the open space and set designer, Wayne Hovey, manages to skillfully suggest such varied locations as an airport terminal and the Taj Mahal with a minimum of stage decoration and some projections. The costumes are authentically designed by Ellen Howes; Ganesha is dressed in gold and flowing robes. His head design was created by Donnie Frank and the busy sound design by Jared Emerson Johnson. Stage Manager Alisha Ramos has many props to move on and off stage including Ganesha’s elegant throne and three full size beds. Hovey also created the light design that includes a mirror disco ball and deep colors for the moods set by the elephant god. Original music was created by Christopher and Marni Ris with Ganesha’s choreography by Rann Shinar.
Patel as the god in everyman, the omnipresent Ganesha, a calming presence; his performance is smooth and engaging as he materializes into several loving people. Both Jorgensen and Lichenstein are impressively versatile in their sterling interpretations of diverse characters who share a spiritual center and their relationship with Patel. The title of the show comes from Katherine’s shopping for souvenir Ganeshes to take back home. It is ironic that she doesn’t realize the moment she was holding the real Ganesha in her arms. The two leading ladies have the complex task of portraying women who, except for brief moments, do not reveal their inner selves.
Patel who spends the entire evening behind a mask, brings his characters to vivid life. A PERFECT GANESH meets its goal as the two women for the most part transform for the best. Through the character of Ganesh, McNally points the way to a better and more compassionate world, but in the end, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith that we’re going to get there. At the same time McNally’s insistence that humankind’s only hope lies in compassion and confession is moving. Next up at the Petaluma stage is THE BARBER OF SEVILLE opens June 7th, but in the meantime join the god of intellect and wisdom of GANESH, he could brighten up your spring.
–V Media

The elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, success and good luck serves as the narrator in Terrence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh. Director Michael Fontaine reteams with performers Elly Lichenstein and Laura Jorgensen to remount a production they first did at Cinnabar 19 years ago.
Margaret Civil (Jorgensen) and Katharine Byrne (Lichenstein) are best friends who don’t really like each other. Trading in their usual two weeks of shared vacation in the Caribbean for a tour of India, these two ladies have issues—issues with the world, issues with each other and issues with themselves. Ganesha (Heren Patel), the “remover of obstacles,” does his best to assist the ladies in overcoming their own.
Jorgensen and Lichenstein play well off of each other. John Browning’s work as every male character they meet along the way is quite entertaining and Patel’s Ganesha is a warm and welcoming figure, though his ornate headgear often led to muffled dialogue.

Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil) and Elly Lichenstein (Katharine Brynne)

Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil) and Elly Lichenstein (Katharine Brynne)

Heren Patel as Ganesha

Heren Patel (Ganesha) and Elly Lichenstein (Katharine Brynne)

Elly Lichenstein (Katharine Brynne), Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil), John Browning (Man), Heren Patel (Ganesha)

Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil) and Heren Patel (Ganesha)

John Browning (Man) and Laura Jorgensen (Margaret Civil)

Photos by Victoria Vonthal
Banner photo Graphic by Victoria Vonthal