The indian call center has become an unfortunate racist cliche, the place where robotlike workers perform outsourced American jobs, and even for many who don’t partake in churlish vitriol about “stolen” jobs, there is something undeniably surreal about being connected with a service person in South Asia. With her play Disconnect (now running at San Jose Rep), Anupama Chandrasekhar provides a welcome perspective from the other side of the telephone. Set at a call center in Chandrasekhar’s home city of Chennai, India, the play depicts the call center as a symbol of globalization, but also as a place where real people, not cultural stereotypes, slave their lives away.

Avinash, played by Rajesh Bose, is an aging manager at an American-owned credit card company. His superior is Jyothi (Devon Ahmed), a woman whose concocted Americanisms sound like a cross between an Eastern seaboard accent and Valleyspeak. During an employee review, Jyothi determines that the traditionally minded Avinash does not embody the trendy “core values” of the company, and she demotes him to a position in Illinois—that is, the floor of the building that deals with customers from that state, where he is to supervise a trio of ambitious debt collectors.

The collectors, Ross, Vidya and Giri (Imran Sheikh, Sharone Sayegh and Ray Singh, respectively) labor through the nights in a windowless “upstairs basement,” subsisting on rations of Coca-Cola as they try to squeeze money out of American creditors, often building up a rapport by pretending to be American themselves. The act seems to come naturally to these young, somewhat Americanized workers, and it’s an effective tactic until “supercollector” Ross takes his role too far and jeopardizes the entire office. This is the consequence of the “disconnect” referred to in the play’s title, between India and the United States, between the characters’ true selves and their aspirational identities. These kids are not Americans, no matter how much their employer wants them to be, or how much they want to be.

This setup is all remarkably dynamic for a play about sitting and talking on telephones. The dialogue runs at a quick clip, and the scenes shared by Sheikh, Sayegh and Singh, often with simultaneous phone conversations evoking a massively stressful, hectic atmosphere, are especially energetic. The grueling regimen of work that they portray almost makes you squirm in your seat, and it’s hard to fend off a sense of nail-biting terror at watching them dig themselves deeper and deeper into inescapable holes.

Runs through April 14; $29-$74
San Jose Repertory Theatre