Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Into the Diaspora

April 05, 2011

The cast of Rafta, Rafta... Photo: Henry DiRocco 2011

The Old Globe in San Diego officially opened performances of Ayub Khan-Din’s comedy Rafta, Rafta… last weekend after some unexpected cast changes for the play’s West Coast premiere. The play originated at Britain’s National Theater in 2007 where it was a big success and had a well-received Off Broadway run in New York the following year. The play is a fairly faithful adaptation of a much older one, Bill Naughton’s All in Good Time from 1963, which was later turned into a 1966 film version entitled The Family Way starring John and Hayley Mills. The story concerns a young newlywed couple who elect to move into the home of the groom's parents for economic reasons. Soon, however, they are confronted with his inability to consummate the marriage, which in short order becomes public knowledge in the households of both families in a small working class British community. And while this may sound old fashioned for source material of a contemporary revival, Khan-Din’s interest in recasting all the characters as part of a South Asian community in contemporary Britain provides an interesting and modern twist. For a community that still prizes interpersonal behavior and values that may seem somewhat antiquated in the larger Anglo majority society, the travails of Naughton’s original play make sense in a new context.

The humor and melodrama here is genteel, but there are a number of genuine laughs throughout Rafta, Rafta…. Kamal Marayati, who took over the role of Eeshwar Dutt well into the play’s rehearsals in San Diego, is winning as the magnetic head of the blue-collar Dutt clan whose son Atul, played by Rachid Sabitri, has just wed Vina Patel, played here by Mahira Kakkar. Atul’s belittlement by his father is a constant sore spot for his mother, Lopa Dutt, played by Geeta Citygirl Chopra in one of the standout performances in this excellent ensemble cast. Vina’s parents, Laxman and Lata, played by Nasser Faris and Gita Reddy respectively, come from a somewhat higher economic echelon, but their family dynamics tie the Patels closely to the Dutts independently of their children’s marriage. This is not a play that turns on shocking revelations or big set pieces and director Jonathan Silverstein keeps the energy level of the cast high without letting it overwork the material. Rafta, Rafta… does recall a more straight forward approach to its emotional content even if some of the sexual politics the story turns on may be stale even for this particular group of characters in this particular community. Perhaps a broader concern for Rafta, Rafta… in this outing, though, is how well its story translates to American audiences. Sure there are plenty of laughs, but for everyone that lands, there appear to be another that misses the mark due to particulars of the British working class life and the large community of immigrant South Asians in Britain. And while the South Asian diaspora reaches into the Southern California fabric as much as it does the British one, jokes about honeymoons in Blackpool and the sort may have more bite on the other side of the Atlantic. But there are still plenty of laughs that do make an invitation to this particular wedding party one worth attending. Rafta, Rafta... runs through April 24 at The Old Globe in San Diego.

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