Launching a career is tough. And the last thing an ambitious young professional needs is a chatty ghost elephant seeking to transform the 9-to-5 landscape into a mythological killing field.
That’s the predicament confronting the title character in “Bhavi the Avenger,” Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s divertingly inventive play, now on view in a modest but resourceful production that is the inaugural offering from Convergence Theatre. Directed by Elena Velasco and running at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, the play centers on Bhavi (an engaging Marquis D. Gibson), a young Indian American who — when not on the job at a large corporation — regularly converses with the spirit of a murdered elephant.
When the spectral pachyderm asks her human pal to hunt down and eliminate her killer, the conflict-averse Bhavi refuses. But when guns start turning up in strange places, including in his briefcase and desk, it begins to seem as if he must act or suffer the consequences.
Mysterious and funny, “Bhavi the Avenger” often feels like a folk tale bred with a smart comic book, with a bit of Joseph Campbell tossed in for good measure. But the play also ponders some of the issues that are part of real-life modern America: in particular, how to be successful without surrendering one’s integrity, and how to relate to one’s cultural or ethnic heritage while functioning as a part of broader society.
Bhavi’s difficulties on the latter score involve his taxi-driving mother (Kecia Campbell), who refuses to talk about the family’s Indian background. Meanwhile, Bhavi’s bigoted and patronizing boss, Bill (Alex Miletich), pressures the young man — whom he calls Bobby — into conforming with the corporate-drone ethos. By contrast, Bhavi’s eerie elephant friend seems to offer wisdom from non-Western culture, lapsing frequently into the enigmatic parables that are her favorite form of expression.
Simple interdisciplinary and design touches help evoke the story’s supernatural details. The elephant (Latia Stokes) appears in the form of a shadow puppet, looming on a screen at one end of the stark, stylized office set. Figures from the parables — a chameleon, a crane — are projected in light along the floor. (Joshua Rosenblum designed the set and puppetry; Nathaniel Collard designed the lighting.)
Bhavi’s encounters with Prudence (Inés Domínguez del Corral), a sari-wearing colleague who has prophetic dreams, sometimes unfurl as steps of swaying dance. Providing occasional accompaniment is tabla player Asif Majid at the far end of the stage.
Not all of the actors have as much stage presence as Gibson. But Miletich’s broad comic style efficiently channels the corporate-boss-from-hell. Bill’s behavior often epitomizes the mix of strangeness and humor that is this play’s forte. At one point, he strong-arms Bhavi into accepting a position that involves more responsibilities for the same pay. To seal the deal, he whips out a blade and an agreement letter in the form of a scroll. Bhavi is supposed to sign in vital fluids.
“File this under ‘Blood Contracts,’ ” Bill says lightly, strolling off.
Wren is a freelance writer.
Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. www.culturaldc.org.
Dates: Through Oct. 11.