Monday, February 16, 2015

Madhuri Shekhar's 'A Nice Indian Boy.'

Here is the best thing I can say about how good the play 'A Nice Indian Boy' was: that I went to see it twice. 

The first time, on Valentine's Day, on my own, because it was rated PG-13 and because we have no friends or babysitters here yet that we can request taking care of our kids while we take some time on our own -- like a normal, parental couple would. So Melvin's Valentine's Day gift for me was to drop me off at Victory Gardens, take the kids for a treat in a nearby bakery and pick me up again after the show.  So pushing the guilt aside, I grabbed a 'Mumbai mule' from the lovely bar downstairs at Victory Gardens and headed up to the show -- telling myself that I love live theatre and it keeps me sane and connected in my isolated 'all work and no play' (pun intended) world.

It was quickly obvious that the play's PG-13 rating does not apply to Melvin's or my values and sensibilities and that this could have been a family outing for us. Adding to my regret was the fact that another extended family in the audience had brought along some kids -- and at least two appeared to be of my girls' ages (pre-teens). Two more appeared to be in their teens. I texted to my family during intermission that we are coming back again. Together.  Melvin's response was 'huh?' 

So we went back again yesterday-- February 15th.  I gave a crash course to my kids on DDLJ (which is referred to quite a bit in some scenes), Mumbai's cosmopolitan Marathis, Ganesha, Indian stereotypes, parental magnanimity, sibling rivalry, sibling love and support, liberal values, first generation immigrant parents' idiosyncracies, second generation's insularity, first generation's expectations of second generation's behaviors towards them. And finally, the elephant in the room and it is what you think (if you clicked on the link above) but it is also not what you think.  It is not even Ganesha who as a deity has a huge presence in the play.  It is the Indian's expectations about who is a true or a good, natural-born Indian and this little-discussed -- perhaps light-hearted but perhaps not -- reverse "discrimination". I also told them not to be shy about a very explicit kissing scene, putting it in context thus: "I allow you to watch Western movies where men kill men with one fast-drawn gun. If you are allowed to watch that, you can see this without any doubt."  I warned them that on a couple occasions they will hear some swear words -- but nothing that they haven't already heard on their school grounds or from my mouth when I am really mad about something. (Yes, so I said it out loud and publicly. Now flog me.)  Whether the crash course helped or not, I cannot be sure; whether the kids followed every dialog or understood every issue, of that too I cannot be sure (my kids' ages range from 8 to 12). But of this I am sure: that the big-picture impact of this beautiful, sensitive, witty, clever play will only make them more self-assured Indian American children and better human beings overall. That the play emphasizes the triumph of love and mutual respect for all -- whether separated by race, community or sexual orientation -- and by all -- whether by parents or progeny; brown or white -- is what they would ultimately remember. Of that I am sure. 

The California-based playwright Madhuri Shekhar (Chennai roots) appears to be talented and extremely insightful. All the actors were amazing -- but Alka Nayyar and Kamal Hans, even more so. Perhaps, they were just a tad older and much more experienced as actors, but they commanded the stage, even more so than the actors who played the younger characters (Kaiser Ahmed, Riley McIlveen, Suzan Faycurry).  

If you have a chance to see this Rasaka Theatre production, please do so.  Or better still, perform this play in your local community.  It is a lovely, lovely play.  

Director, Anna Bahow, on the play and the playwright: 'A Nice Indian Boy' is a romantic comedy with familiar tropes -- that are anything but familiar when immigrant assimilation collides with the adoption of a foreign heritage. The play challenges our traditioal concepts of ethnicity ad marriage. Shekhar has such respect for her characters and the humor is generous to all.