Picture two young people trying to enjoy their wedding night in the bedroom right next to the groom's parents, and you'll get an idea of the frustrating yet touching comedic premise of Ayub Khan-Din's warmhearted play, "Rafta, Rafta ...," currently in a New Group production at off-Broadway's Acorn Theatre.
Atul Dutt (an engaging Manish Dayal) finds the romantic mood difficult to sustain after a rocky first night with his bride, Vina Patel (charmingly portrayed by Reshma Shetty.)
The couple is temporarily living with Atul's affectionately bickering parents, while saving up for their own home. Atul's often-obtuse and controlling father, Eeshwar, deftly and humorously portrayed by Ranjit Chowdry, doesn't help matters between the newlyweds.
Eeshwar ungenerously bests his son at arm-wrestling in front of guests after the wedding reception, then sends the newlyweds off to bed with helpful reminders that he's right next door if they need anything, and that he's a light sleeper.
Atul soon finds he can't perform with Vina as he had envisioned. Tensions subsequently escalate between the young marrieds, and between Atul and his oblivious father.
Both Vina's and Atul's parents are Indian immigrants living in the working-class town of Bolton, England. The young people are first-generation British, with modern attitudes that are bound to clash with their parents' old-world values and frequent meddling. When Vina gives Atul a Blackberry for his wedding gift, his parents reminisce about getting a water buffalo on their wedding day, before they emigrated.
Such generational and cultural differences are gently mocked by playwright Khan-Din, and played for laughs by a talented cast under Scott Elliott's accomplished direction.
In particular, Sakina Jaffrey gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Atul's loving, sensible mother, as she interacts with her exasperating husband. Sarita Choudhury is affecting as Vina's stern mother.
Certain frailties and sorrows, some left unresolved, are gradually revealed in several relationships in both families, making for a well-rounded, multigenerational human drama.
References to Bollywood films and Indian entertainers as well as Indian dancing, food, customs and music are featured, all of which add life and authenticity to the production.
Theresa Squire's costumes, including several beautiful saris, provide more rich detail.
Derek McLane's detailed set _ four rooms plus the front porch of a house are squeezed onto the stage _ compactly reflects the cramped feeling of the household. Low ceilings and multiple patterns and colors in the decor complete the claustrophobia.
"Rafta, Rafta ...," which Khan-Din adapted from a 1963 play by Bill Naughton called "All in Good Time," was a success at the National Theatre in London last year. This American production, which runs through June 21, is a fond examination of common family issues that cross all cultures and ethnicities.
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