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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
RAFTA, RAFTA
at Theatre Row

A FAMILY AFFAIR
By BILL STEVENSON

  PH: Monique Carboni

In its last production, Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years, the New Group offered a realistic look at a Jewish family in London. Now, with Ayub Khan- Din's Rafta, Rafta, the company provides a sweet and often funny story if an Indian family sharing close quarters in a town near Manchester, England.

At first glance, the home of Lopa Dutt (Sakina Jaffrey) and Eeshwar Dutt (Ranjit Chowdhry) looks quite large. Derek McLane's nicely detailed two-story set barely fits in the Acorn theatre stage. But it doesn't take long for the house to feel cramped. That's because the Dutt's son Atul ( Manish Dayal) and his bride Vina Patel (Reshma Shetty) move in to the family home after their marriage. The young couple can't get a minute of privacy, and as a result their honeymoon is something of a fizzle.

Based on Bill Naughton's play All in Good Time, Khan- Din's reworking deftly mixes believable drama with light comdy. There are tensions between Eeshwar, a factory worker who grew up in a village in India, and the intellectual Atul, who works as a movie projectionist, but dreams of bigger things. Eeshwar drinks too much during the wedding party, dancing on the coffee table while Atul taps away on his Blackberry. The two don't understand each other and have never been close.

All the relationships are complicated and convincing., Eeshwar and Lopa bicker but clearly love each other. Vina's parents, Lata (Sarita Choudhury) and Laxman (Alok Tewari), are no longer intimate, and Vina hopes that her leaving home will help their marriage. Vina even has a complex, friendly/flirtatious relationship with Atul's younger brother, Jai (Satya Bhabha), who has a not-so-secret crush on her.

Scott Elliott, who also directed Two Thousand Years as well as many other New Group productions, once again proves to be a master of the ensemble play. Although Rafta, Rafta has a few sitcomish moments, Elliott and the actors make the characters so believable that the comedy feels natural and unforced. After a while, the Dutts and Patels seem like real families-they gossip, laugh, fight, tell stories, get on one another's nerves, but still love one another despite their incompatible moments.

The cohesive cast is first-rate. Dayal and Shetty make an attractive couple, and Dayal is particularly good in his scenes with the veteran Chowdhry. Other standouts are Jaffrey and Choudhury as the doting, occasionally meddling mothers.

Rafta, Rafta, which won the 2008 Olivier Award for Best Comedy, manages to be at once very specific in its cultural observations and universal in its portrait of family life. One doesn't have to be British or Indian to enjoy this winning, charming play.

 


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