San Francisco Theater Review: MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (New Conservatory Theatre Center)

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by Chuck Louden on November 18, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

A BEAUTIFUL ADAPTATION

The British indie My Beautiful Laundrette was praised when it came out for its multi-layered portrait of the immigrant experience, and is now best remembered for Daniel Day Lewis’s screen debut, not to mention putting Channel Four Films and director Stephen Frears on the map. Adapted for the stage by Andy Graham and Roger Parsley from Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay, the similarly titled play is receiving an entertaining U.S. debut at the New Conservatory Theater Center, directed by NCTC actor/director/veteran Andrew Nance.

Robert Rushin and Keith Stevenson in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of the US premiere of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE.As with the film, the setting is 1985 in Great Britain during the turbulent Maggie Thatcher era, which was seeing complex relationships between the Indo-Aryan Asian and Caucasian communities. The story concerns a Pakistani British family headed up by Nassar (Keith Stevenson), a businessman trying to make a name for himself by running successful businesses in a predominantly white world. After his nephew Omar (Javi Harnly) arrives for employment and to learn the value of work and responsibility, Nassar’s attractive daughter Tania (Radhika Rao), who is restless and bored with the limited predetermined role dictated by men in her culture, is expected by the family elders to eventually marry Omar (it’s a bit disturbing and creepy that in 1985 elders thought nothing of betrothing first cousins). Then there is Salim (Daniel Redmond), Nassar’s ambitious assistant who resents that Omar is given a position strictly based on nepotism, and Rachel (Cat Luedtke), Nassar’s gregarious mistress who wants something more from her part-time lover.

Robert Rushin and Keith Stevenson in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of the U.S. premiere of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE.Nassar decides to give Omar one of his failing businesses to fix up and manage–the titular laundrette–and it becomes the catalyst for the escalating family drama and dynamics. Omar hires his old school chum Johnny (Robert Rushin), a gay white punk still running around flirting with fascism. Not only does Omar admire Johnny’s independence, but he has a crush on him, an exciting distraction from his pre-determined life. As the laundrette opens and becomes successful, and Omar and Johnny’s relationship develops, the family tension and drama escalates.

Javi Harnley and Robert Rushin in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of the U.S. premiere of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE.The universal themes of love, obligation, veneration and prejudice are as fresh in this production as they were in the film, and the racial tensions are still as relevant. Cleverly staged by Nance on a set dressed with Yusuke Soi’s 1980s props (including giant clunky cell phones), it’s quite a feat that all of the actors retain a naturalism and believability, especially with their consistent and credible British/Pakistani  accents (dialect coach Patricia Reynoso). Nance ensures that each portrayal has a motivating backstory, which guarantees that we empathize with their point of view or agenda even as we may not agree with the character’s actions.

Cat Luedtke and Keith Stevenson in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of the U.S. premiere of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE.The story unfolds more cohesively on stage than the movie, which was originally filmed as a television show for BBC and doesn’t necessarily hold up over time (those clunky transitions between scenes were to allow for commercials). The play, with its inevitable dramatic confrontations and conclusion flows much more naturally and builds full speed in the second act. This coming-of-age gay romance succeeds because it is wrapped up in bigger themes, especially those dealing with money and how we are taught to hate.

photos by Lois Tema

My Beautiful Laundrette
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave @Market
scheduled to end on December 22, 2014
for tickets, call (415) 861-8972 or email boxoffice@nctcsf.org

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