Chicago Theater Review: A NICE INDIAN BOY (Rasaka Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 13, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

GAGA FOR GANESHA

Now in residence at Victory Gardens Theater, the newly minted Rasaka Theatre Company is in hot pursuit of more diversity on Chicago stages. Their mission: to share the tales of South Asian-Americans, adding helpful variations on the music of humanity. Anna C. Bahow’s earnest Midwest premiere of Madhuri Shekar’s romantic drama dabbles delightfully at culture-clash comedy: At its best it proposes a few new ways to be Hindu parents coping with change, and gay lovers seeking a middle ground between family and freedom (it’s not, as billed, a multicultural comedy, because the conflict here is essentially “all in the family”).

Kaiser Ahmed, Alka Nayyar and Suzan Faycurry star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

Except for the Bay Area backdrop and the East Indian characters, A Nice Indian Boy is very conventional fare. This latest variant of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is basically a thinking sitcom where details matter more than the predictable plot. Naveen Gavaskar (Kaiser Ahmed) is the title young man, living “in sin” in his San Francisco apartment with his Indophile boyfriend Keshav Kurundkar (Riley McIlveen), an orphan who has adopted Rama, Vishnu and Shiva as his avatars, along with an Indian name to confirm his sincerity.

Alka Nayyar and Kamal J. Hans star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

Transformed a la A Passage to India after pilgrimages to Mumbai and his worship of Ganesha, the elephant god and “Remover of Obstacles,” Keshav is a tad too insistent on proving he’s one of the tribe. Though this professional photographer loves Naveen for himself, it doesn’t hurt that his boyfriend belongs to a culture that Keshav admires to adoration. As for accusations that he’s poaching on other people’s preserves, to Keshav that’s just reverse discrimination. Tolerance is the tonic.

(clockwise from top left)  Alka Nayyar, Kamal J. Hans, Suzan Faycurry, Kaiser Ahmed and Riley McIlveen star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

But, when the would-be-married lovers visit Naveen’s tradition-minded parents in San Jose, the generation gap becomes a family feud, if only because of the playwright’s favorite saw, a “failure to communicate.” The father Archit (Kamal Hans) is an overly devoted dad: He’s also crazy about cooking which will become a bond between him and his future son-in-law.

Kaiser Ahmed and Riley McIlveen star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

Mother Megha (Alka Nayyar) is merry and mercurial, a conciliator in any crisis. They putatively accept that their son is gay, but his desire for a sanctioned wedding will be much harder to explain to the transplanted village elders. Exacerbating the family friction is Naveen’s discontented sister Arundhathi (Suzan Faycurry), divorcing her way out of an arranged marriage that inevitably contrasts with the guys’ more natural affinities.

Suzan Faycurry and Kaiser Ahmed star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

Of course, the play’s requisite obstacles to the course of true love exist to be overcome. Since this is 2015, the choice between duty and love is a no-brainer, best concluded by a full-blown, break-out “Bollywood” ending, complete with swirling saris, delicious aromas, and temple dances secular style! (Also, the travelogue-like lobby is gorgeously decorated with ceremonial chairs, lush Indian fabrics, and souvenirs of the subcontinent. The program also provides a helpful glossary—necessary for the exotic cuisine—and a cute diagram of lovable Ganesh and the princely pachyderm’s symbolic traits.)

Kaiser Ahmed and Riley McIlveen star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

However prolonged the inevitable resolution, Bahow’s Rasaka quintet are completely comfortable with their well-contrasted roles, delivering invigorating freshness despite a formulaic familiarity à la My Big Greek Wedding. Love may be everyone’s destined tale but, as with anything so vital, we live in and for the details.

Kaiser Ahmed, Riley McIlveen and Kamal J. Hans star in Rasaka Theatre’s A Nice Indian Boy at Victory Gardens Theater

photos by Scott Dray

A Nice Indian Boy
Rasaka Theatre Company
Victory Gardens Theater
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3:30
ends on March 8, 2015
for tickets, visit www.victorygardens.com or www.rasakatheatre.com

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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