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|A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
The names, the faces and the language change, but the story remains almost entirely the same. It's The American Dream, and this time the language is Gujerati. Azgi (Aasif Mandvi) is a young Indian man whose most glorified hope is coming true.
Azgi has received a letter from Mr. Hakim in New York City, saying he will sponsor him in America. He can work in Hakim's family restaurant, and get to see America. Although it is terribly painful to his mother, it's a journey Azgi has to take.
What follows is an entertaining, poignant portrait of the many facets of this variation on the immigrant experience. Mandvi, a talented, likable actor, plays a half dozen roles, transforming himself simply but effectively from Azgi to Hakim and the members of his family: his wife Farrida, their daughter Sakina and son Samir, as well as the Indian medical student, Ali, to whom Sakina's marriage has been arranged. For each, there is a price that living in the land of opportunity exacts, and it is that dilemma that Sakina's Restaurant examines..
Azgi tries to decipher and negotiate life in America, a land of amazing wealth but also of beggars and pickpockets. As the complexity of his new life unfolds, Azgi remembers the values he learned as a child, and they seem to take on new meaning. Ultimately, he will ask, as many have asked before, what happened to his dreams.
Hakim seeks to balance his economic successes with his moral failings. His relationship with his wife has soured, and he fears that his children are assimilating into Americans who do not appreciate the glories of Indian culture. His wife is unhappy, finding neither friends nor opportunities nor really a place in America. Sakina is desperate to be an American, but must confront the racism she would prefer to disregard. Salim likewise just wants to be an American boy, and resents the intrusion of his Indian background. Finally, Ali must reconcile his strongly-held Muslim beliefs with American values and morals.
Mandvi interlaces Azgi's experiences with his recollection of Indian parables that help him understand. He takes us, thus, on an annotated excursion. It is not a ride filled with thrills, but it is both pleasant and interesting, especially in shedding light on the (theatrically) underexposed Indian culture in America.
Tom Greenfield's simple set, a group of platforms resting on a bed of stones, surprises in that it is both functional and symbolic. Together with Ryan McMahon's dramatic and attractive lighting, and David Wright's playful sound, the design elements go far in supporting the richness of this production.