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Young Indian American playwright Dipika Guha’s style and tone of writing is making theater lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area sit up and take notice. (Andrew Demirjian, Djerassi Artists Residency photo)

Indian American playwright Dipika Guha is being described by critics as one of the most exciting up-and-coming playwrights hitting the San Francisco Bay Area stages this year.

Her new comedy, “Mechanics of Love,” which explores how we love, who we choose, the cost of making sense of it all, and is love possible without memory, premiered Feb. 22 at the Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco to rave reviews.

“The Rules” by Guha, which is described as a “late coming-of-age story” with three old friends all falling in love with the same man, and how they reexamine the rules of love and friendship, will have its world premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse this summer.

Another poignant script, “The Art of Gaman,” from Guha and Maxine Hong Kingston, which is about Japanese internment camps on the West Coast, will be developed as part of the summer residency lab at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s new works program. Her work is also under commission with the South Coast Repertory and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Guha is the inaugural recipient of the Shakespeare’s Sister Playwriting Fellowship through Lark Playwrights Development Center, A Room of Her Own and Hedgebrook.

“‘Mechanics of Love’ is kind of deconstruction of what it means to love someone and to be in love and to what extent that is biological or intellectual or to what extent it is predetermined,” Guha told India-West. “What that means to the way we live our lives and what is love when you don’t have memories.”

Born in Kolkata and raised in Cochin, India, Russia and the United Kingdom, the nuanced playwright now calls Bay Area home.

Her plays raise profound and underlying questions of social life and seek to answer those difficult questions. She loves mixing genres and is most drawn to tragi-comedies. “I have questions about history, about love, about loss, what it means to age, and these questions guide my investigation,” Guha said. “Often the question of what our relationship to history is and what history has to do with our small domestic lives goes through my work.”

Set in two-time periods, her plays often blur the lines between past and present. Growing up, Guha said, she always sought comfort in the world of theater, which is both real and imaginary and it was something that she was “very responsive” to as a child.

“In some ways I always felt at home at the theater because we moved so much this was something I could always do and I didn’t have to be this weird girl,” Guha explained to India-West. “It made me feel like I had a way to be in whatever place we were in. I always felt kind of safe and included, and I think theater at its best is that space, that is more a space than it is a place.”

The young playwright, who grew up reading Victorian literature and Shakespeare, started writing at University College London, and came to the U.S. to study drama at Harvard University on a nine-month scholarship program.

Having a great affection for the language as well as the medium continually inspired her and, Guha said, she always wanted to recreate that sense of inclusivity.

“I loved it instinctively, and, when I began to study it, I learnt more about it, and I could name it what it was about it that I loved so much,” she stated.

Though she was always drawn to the performing arts, she was able to consolidate that feeling when she was accepted into the MFA program at Brown University. Guha completed her master’s degree at the Yale School of Drama where she was a protégé of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel.

She admitted that getting financial help while she was still figuring out if she was going to go down that road was very valuable and important. “You can’t risk going in debt at least in that formative period when you are consolidating your writing, when it’s very important to be financially secure,” she shared.

In 2006, Guha wrote her first play during her scholarship period. “I thought to myself that I have this huge gift to really use and what’s the one thing I could do, and the answer was to write a play, and I kind of knew when that happened,” she recalled to India-West. “I was ready to make that deeper commitment to playwriting.”

Her first script produced on stage was called “Grand Motherland,” about India, England and her grandmother.

“My grandmother had these young girls coming to her home in Delhi, and I grew up watching these girls work in the house, she said. “There was a point in time when we were almost the same age, and I was so full of guilt as a child, because I was always allowed to play, and they were doing housework.” She added that her grandfather would teach them how to read and write and do basic math.

The play crossed back in time to the 19th century, and it was punctured by moments of characters from E.M. Forster’s “Passage to India.”

Guha is cognizant of the fact that others, including the directors and actors, might perceive her stories and characters differently, but she opined that that’s what makes the process very exciting.

“White people playing Indians in my first play didn’t bother me,” Guha told India-West. “In fact, it was in a way experimental, as I wondered what would happen for white people to try to understand this life and what would that do to the play.”

Guha, who hates to assume who her audience might be, noted, “It’s always a challenge for people to say what I understand and what feels alien.”

She also realizes that she may not find the perfect match.

“I think you are looking for maximum alignment but not perfect or maybe they bring something you never saw,” she explained. “For me it’s about who understands the language and when does the language sound right, and with directors for me it is about who understands the tone of the play as much as the story.”

“It’s about getting onboard with the strange foreign things that we are all making together, that’s the real objective,” she stressed.

Her advice to budding playwrights is “to practice.” “I started writing five minutes a day ten years ago and now this is all I do,” Guha said. “I think we are all very capable of creativity in every aspect. The practice of cultivating the time, honing your intention and creating the time comes out of that and that’s a lifelong practice.”

Guha has penned 12 full-length plays and 10 short plays. Currently, she is busy rewriting one play and developing another.

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