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A CurtainUp Review
India Pale Ale
By Elyse Sommer
Like so many who've become member of this nation of immigrants, the Batras' assimilation is more accurately symbolized by a salad than the metaphor borrowed from Abranham Zangwill's 1908 play The Melting Pot. Their salad bowl life style as American citizens is filled with Sikh Pakistani cultural and religious ingredients.
In India Pale Ale Will Davis wears two hats, as choreographer as well as director. Choreographer? Is this a musical rather than a play? No, a play it is. But some exuberant Punjabi dances are as much a part of India Pale Ale's authenticity as the Indian foods prepared in the scenes that bookend its first and final act— the first is a celebration, the final one is a more somber attempt to heal the pain of a terrible fact-based event that leaves us to contemplate a poignant and all too relevant message. (There are four acts, with an intermission after the first two).
Though this entertaining and provocative play has a large cast Basminder "Boz" Batra (the terrific Shazi Raja) is plot propelling central character. She's not a troublesome rebel but she is strong willed. Even though the brother who yearned to see and experience another life and got killed doing so when she was fourteen, she too is determined to see and experience another world.
The ghost of Brown Beard, her mythic pirate ancestor, also motivates and defines the destination and format of her own adventure. The references and actual appearances of this Brown Beard infuses the realism of the scenes in the tightknit home community with fantasy. However, savvy story-teller that Backhaus is, even the one especially surreal scene after the intermission, is integral to the overall story rather than just inserted to add a bit of colorful spectacle.
Boz's can-do plan for her own adventure involves a bigger emotional than geographic journey. It will take her to the outskirts of not very far away Madison,Wisconsin to open a bar. The bar's name —IPA for India Pale Ale— is her link to that pirate ancestor who, according to her father's often told tales, sailed beer ships back and forth between India and the UK.
If the prologue in which Boz speaks in the lingo of the pirate is a bit confusing. . .not to worry. Everything is clarified and detailed in the interactions that follow.
During the opening act in the community hall adjacent to the Sikh temple we overhear Boz discussed by her mother Deepa (a fine Purva Bedi) and her devoted but opinionated childhood best friend Simran Rayat (Angel Desai, also excellent) as they prepare the roti and samosi to be served at the celebration of Iggy's engagement to local girl Lovi (Lipica Shah). We learn that broke off her romance with Vishal Singh (Nik Sadhahi) and that Deepa has heard her mumbling about her plans to leave and run a bar.
Deepa and Simran are soon joined by Iggy, Lovi, Vishal, grandmother Dadi Parminder (Sophia Mahmud) and Sunny (an imposing Alok Tewari), the Batra patriarch. The festivities erupt into a joyous group dance. That dance morphs into a somewhat manic solo by Boz which seems to give her the courage to finally tell her father that she's leaving,
By the time the party ends we've met everyone except the sole character who's not East Asian. Backhaus has saved Tim (an engagingNate Miller) for when the action forward six months and takes us to Boz's bar. Nate Miller's Tim represents all those mid-American white guys who love their beer and, especially nowadays, tend to tactlessly assume that anyone who looks like Boz has only recently arrived in America. While Tim probably has friends who hate "otherness" he fortunately— if unfortunately not quite believably— offers a hopeful note to the play's final plea for an America that can embrace even those who prefer roti to apple pie.
The designers all contribute mightily. Neil Patel's deceptively simple scenic design is full of surprises that are heightened by Ben Stanton's lighting. Arnulfo Moldonada's costumes are character defining all around, and breathtakingly eye-popping in the post-intermission fantasia.
Bravo to Manhattan Theatre Club for supporting a still emerging new American playwright with a first class production.
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India Pale Ale by Jaclyn Backhaus
Director/Choreographer:y Will Davis.
Scenic Design:Neil Pate
Costume Design:Arnulfo Maldonado
Lighting Design:Ben Stanton
Original Music & Sound Design: Elisheba Ittoop
Hair & Makeup Design: Dave Bova
Stage Manager:Erin Gioia Albrecht
Running Time: 2 hours, including 1 intermission
MTC New York City Center-Stage 1 131 West 55th Street
. From 10/02/18; opening 10/23/18;closing 11/28/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/19/18 press preview
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