For the longest time, the University of Pittsburgh production of Manjula Padmanabhan's Harvest is an engaging piece of theater. It's set in a not-too-distant future where wealthy Western nations have begun exploiting the developing world in an even more "hands-on" sort of way.
Somewhere in India, we meet Om, a young man who has just gotten a job with InterPlanta, Inc. His duties are to stay at home, eat well and exercise regularly. The one hitch is that should the need arise, he will donate any of his organs to his American patroness, a Southern belle named Ginni who occasionally teleconferences into the room, dispensing patronizing and belittling advice like a kindly master to an unruly puppy. Eventually, there's a knock on the door and it's time to collect …
Padmanabhan is juggling several balls here — a dystopic future, Western imperialism, rampant consumerism — and she's created an amusingly dysfunctional family living through it all.
Anjalee Deshpande Hutchinson shows incredible skill as a director; giving attention to the small emotional beats of the work but keeping focus on Padmanabhan's tale. Harvest is a comedy and a horror story, and Hutchinson handles both adeptly. (Although it wouldn't kill anyone if everybody would pick up the pace!)
As Om, Parag S. Gohel has a great talent for playing aggressively passive and making it compelling. Chelsea Faber, as Jaya, is the moral center, and gives the role strong conviction and presence. The character of Ma is an interesting one; even a different culture has the nagging, daughter-in-law-hating mother stereotype, but Rohini Chaki gets a lot of laughs out of it, as does Alexa Smith, as Ginni.
Andy Nagraj, playing the black-sheep brother, bursts in like a fireball; he's got so much talent he hasn't quite learned how to control it yet. He'll be amazing when he does.
It's an all-around strong production, until the last 20 minutes, when Padmanabhan derails completely and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a muddied and uninteresting exercise in sci-fi. Following the theatrical know-how of the previous act-and-a-half, this ending is surprisingly ham-fisted and flat.
But up until then, Harvest has plenty to recommend it.