Playwright Ayub Khan-Din takes an insightful comedic look at two British South Asian families in his delightful, cross-cultural comedy Rafta, Rafta… The 2008 Olivier Award winner for Best New Comedy, Rafta, Rafta… now gets its West Coast Premiere in a vibrant, colorful production at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.

Based on Bill Naughton’s 1963 play All In Good Time (filmed in 1966 as The Family Way), Rafta, Rafta… (“slowly, slowly…” in Hindi) focuses on newlywed couple Atul Dutt and Vina Patel, their Indian-born parents, and assorted friends and family members.

Though Bolton-born-and-raised Atul and Vina have married for love (unlike the previous generation’s arranged marriages), in one significant way they are more like their parents than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Despite having done their fair amount of pre-marital fooling around, Vina has remained a virgin till her wedding night.

And herein lies the crux of both Naughton’s mid-‘60s play and Khan-Din’s ‘00s adaptation. Even six weeks after their wedding day, the young couple’s marriage remains unconsummated, and despite their best efforts, it remains hard (or not so hard as the case may be) for the groom to get it up.

Secrets like this one rarely remain secrets for long, Vina’s naïve post-confession plea to her mom (“Promise you won’t tell anyone?”) a virtual guarantee that the Indian grapevine will soon be abuzz. Before long Atul’s parents and Vina’s father have also become privy to their offspring’s embarrassing state of affairs, as have Atul’s younger brother Jai, his boss Jivaj and Jivaj’s Anglo wife Molly, and his buddy Etash, putting even more pressure on the newlyweds to move past third base into home run territory.

The improbability of most contemporary English brides still being “intact” on their wedding night would likely make a 2011 revival of Naughton’s original play a period piece at best and at worst, simply too dated to succeed in the more sexually permissive new millennium. On the other hand, the more tradition-bound Indian culture that surrounds Atul and Vina even in 21st Century Bolton makes Rafta, Rafta… not only absolutely credible but particularly fascinating to Western audiences, especially to Americans unfamiliar with British Indian ways.

Still, as director Jonathan Silverstein points out in his director’s note, we humans are more alike than unalike, and regardless of ethnicity, we all can chuckle at a father who can’t help putting his foot in his mouth or a wife who doesn’t understand her husband’s need to spread a particular condiment on whatever he eats. Likewise a mother who envies and resents her daughter’s closeness with her father is as universal as how the revelation of long suppressed family secrets can reopen old wounds.

Playwright Khan-Din paints characters as colorful as the vivid hues of Christal Weatherly’s gorgeous Technicolor costumes, with a splendid cast of mostly South Asian American actors giving richly textured performances under Silverstein’s sharp, perceptive direction. Geeta Citygirl Chopra (Atul’s mother), Amir Darvish (Atul’s boss), Nasser Faris (Vina’s father), Ariya Ghaharamani (Atul’s brother), Mahira Kakkar (Vina), Scenie-winner Caralyn Kozlowski (Amir’s boss’s wife), Kamal Marayati (Atul’s father), Gita Reddy (Vina’s mother), Rachid Sabitri (Atul), and Shalin Agarwal (Atul’s friend) sparkle and sizzle, each and every one. In particular, native Brit Sabitri (last seen in La Mirada in The Tale Of The Allergist’s Wife) combines the kind of leading man charm and first-rate comedic chops that ought to gain him mainstream romantic leads. Marayati, who stepped into the role of Eeshwar at the last minute, deserves special applause for a nearly flawless Opening Night performance.

Rafta, Rafta… at the Globe is bookended by a pair of infectious bhangra dance numbers choreographed by movement consultant Reetu Patel. Scenic designer Alexander Dodge’s stunning two-story four room middle class Bolton home fills every inch of the Old Globe’s big proscenium, with Lap Chi Chu’s expert lighting not only clueing us into to the time of day but focusing attention on whichever room(s) the action is taking place in. Paul Peterson’s sound design is equally fine at setting just the right moods. Kudos go also to dialect coach Gillian Lane-Plescia and music consultant Mark Danisovksy. Diana Moser is stage manager. Casting is by Samantha Barrie, CSA.

With the South African thriller Groundswell playing next door at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, The Old Globe is the place to be for those craving a trip abroad at minimum expense … and what’s more, no passport or pat-down is required.

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.
–Steven Stanley
March 27, 2011
Photos: Henry DiRocco

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