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Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday November 18, 2018)

Photo: Purva Bedi as Deepa Batra, Shazi Raja as Basminder “Boz” Batra, and Angel Desai as Simran Rayat. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday November 18, 2018)
Written by Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Will Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jaclyn Backhaus’s “India Pale Ale” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I has a collection of “teachable moments.” Some of the lessons are rather unimportant though interesting. The audience learns the history of IPA (India Pale Ale), the hops and alcohol content of the iconic enhanced pale ale, and how at least one white hipster Tim (a lumbering and naïve Nate Miller) does not know what the “I” in “IPA” stands for. Other lessons are significantly more important. The audience learns the migratory history of Basminder “Boz” Batra (an energetic and spirited Shazi Raja) and her Punjabi family to the United States and their new home in Raymond, Wisconsin. Boz and her brother Iggy (a deeply sensitive and ebullient Sathya Sridharan) are second-generation American citizens. And the audience learns that Boz wants to leave Raymond and open a bar in nearby Madison, Wisconsin.

Boz’s wanderlust is apparently inspired by the Batra family’s mythological ancestor Brown Beard who, according to Boz’s father Sunny (an unconditionally loving and non-judgmental Alok Tewari) risked life and limb to sail beer ships back and forth between India and the United Kingdom. The theme of separation and individuation counterpoints Ms. Backhaus’s exploration of xenophobia and racism.

The most profound “teachable moment” occurs in Boz’s new bar in Madison. Tim who is white (one of two characters without a last name in the play – Lovi is the other) visits the bar and asks Boz: “What are you? Where are you from?” Failing to understand his questions not only dehumanize Boz but exemplify the worst aspects of racism, Tim continues to blunder through his introduction with alarming vacuity. Boz’s willingness to “teach” Tim is remarkable and represents the playwright’s wish that more white Americans become and stay woke.

It is unfortunate that the significant themes of “India Pale Ale” are overshadowed by the daily onslaught of disingenuous messages from what should be the source of the moral compass of a nation; namely; the current political posturing and dividedness that has fueled xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in America whose citizenry is becoming more and more numbed by hate crime after hate crime. When her former fiancée Vishal Singh (a charming and warmhearted Nik Sadhnani) arrives in Madison to call Boz back to Raymond to respond to a family tragedy, the audience at the performance I attended had experienced within seventy-two hours three horrific hate crimes in the United States.

The play itself also bears responsibility for disengagement from its thematic development. The “pirate” trope is overused: the scene with the cast clad in Arnulfo Maldonado’s splendid pirate costumes seems overlong and overwrought and provides little payoff. Additionally, the intra-family dysfunction (engagements, the breaking of engagements, inter-personal disrepair) distract from the primary dramatic arc.

Under Will Davis’s direction, the cast fiercely inhabits their characters with sublime believability. In addition to those already mentioned, Angel Desai (Simran Rayat), Purva Bedi (Deepa Batra), Sophia Mahmud), and Lipica Shah (Lovi) complete the extraordinary ensemble cast.

That said, “India Pale Ale” remains a stalwart attempt to “see” and “understand” and to stay woke to the social injustices extant just outside (and most likely within) the doors of the theater. The cast “breaks bread” with the audience in a special way at the play’s end. This sharing befits catharsis and emulation.

INDIA PALE ALE

“India Pale Ale” stars Purva Bedi, Angel Desai, Sophia Mahmud, Nate Miller, Shazi Raja, Nik Sadhnani, Lipica Shah, Sathya Sridharan, and Alok Tewari. Previews begin October 2 ahead of an October 23 opening at New York City Center – Stage I.

The design team includes Neil Patel (Scenic Design), Arnulfo Maldonado (Costume Design), Ben Stanton (Lighting Design), Elisheba Ittoop (Original Music and Sound Design), Dave Bova (Hair and Makeup Design), and Will Davis (Choreography).

“India Pale Ale” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (131 West 55th Street) through Sunday November 18, 2018. Tickets for “India Pale Ale” can be purchased online at www.nycitycenter.org, by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street). For more information, please visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.

Photo: Purva Bedi as Deepa Batra, Shazi Raja as Basminder “Boz” Batra, and Angel Desai as Simran Rayat. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 2, 2018

Broadway Review: “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Currently On

Photo: Michael Urie and Jack DiFalco in the revival of “Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Currently On)
By Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Loneliness, the quest for authentic and meaningful love, the fear of rejection, the need for respect, and the excruciating separation from situations of abuse are not unique to members of the LGBTQ+ community of any decade or location, and perhaps that is why audiences have responded positively to Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” since its Broadway production in 1982 at New York’s Little Theatre (the Helen Hayes). Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation currently running at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater is titled “Torch Song:” it is staged in two acts with Arnold’s (an emotive and transparent Michael Urie) soliloquy and the original act names intact. Four hours have been trimmed down to two hours and forty-five minutes.

The characters and their conflicts are familiar – even more familiar than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. And the plots and subplots driven by their conflicts are even more recognizable. Scenes in The International Stud (Act I), Fugue in a Nursery (Act II), and Widows and Children First (Act III) chronicle Arnold’s yearning for love (and family), his falling in love with Ed (a vulnerable and unnerved Ward Horton), the “straight” man who is dating Arnold and Laurel (an astute and strong Roxanna Hope Radja) concurrently, his significant relationship with Alan (an ebullient and confident Michael Hsu Rosen), his adopted son David (a deeply sensitive and trusting Jack DiFalco), and his confrontation with his possessive mother Mrs. Beckoff (a possessive and disquieting Mercedes Ruehl). Michael Urie tenderly and authentically portrays these stages in Arnold’s quest for acceptance and meaningful relationships.

The action of the truncated trilogy spans Arnold’s years in New York City from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. In Act I, the extended phone conversation between Arnold and Ed is awkward: the dialogue seems worn and overwrought. Conversely, Mr. Horton delivers a compelling account of his suicide dream/attempt. Act II, Fugue in a Nursery, is energetic and well-directed by Moisés Kaufman. Reminiscent of a scene in Sondheim’s “Company,” the act moves briskly and allows the actors to explore their formidable comedic skills. Sadly, the act also highlights all sorts of infidelity and chicanery too often associated with the LGBTQ+ community and raises an enduring and rich questions: Why do members of the LGBTQ+ family respond so positively (standing ovations) to theatre that portrays its members in less than affirmative qualities? Are we simply grateful to have plays that deal with LGBTQ+ themes or should we expect more?

Act III, Widows and Children First is uneven. Ms. Ruehl delivers a robust Mrs. Beckoff; unfortunately, Arnold’s mother is a despicable and selfish character that Arnold should not need to include in his new understanding of elective family. The highlights of this Act are the deeply moving and authentically performed scenes between Arnold and David and Jack. Michael Urie, Jack DiFalco, and Ward Horton bring exuberant hopefulness and genuine affection to their characters and successfully define Harvey Fierstein’s vision of the “new American family.” The ending of the play, despite Arnold’s pressing all that sustains (and challenges) him against his chest, provides less than a satisfying catharsis.

Under Mr. Kaufman’s careful direction, the members of cast deliver believable performances despite the stereotypical traits of each character. David Zinn’s sparse, elevated, and movable set is functional and appropriate. Clint Ramos’s costumes are period perfect. David Lander’s lighting adds significantly to the mood of the piece and does John Gromada’s sound design.

There are times when the characters border on situation comedy stock figures. This occurs predominantly in Act III after Mrs. Beckoff arrives on the scene. The conversations – mostly the arguments – between Mrs. Beckoff and Arnold reek of situation comedy. This is unfortunate, because it is in these encounters that Mr. Fierstein’s argument for Arnold’s independence and separation and individuation from his abusive mother are meant to be resolved. It is difficult to discern whether this misfortune is the result of Mr. Kaufman’s direction or Mr. Fierstein’s writing although the latter would be the most likely choice. The tone here is transparently Fierstein and perhaps the autobiographical nature of the piece unburdens here.

The journey to achieving Arnold’s commendable goals is a universal one as are the hopes and dreams of the characters in “Torch Song.” One wishes for even more relevant themes for the LGBTQ+ community in the first half of the twenty-first century.

TORCH SONG

“Torch Song” features Michael Urie as Arnold Beckoff and Mercedes Ruehl as Mrs. Beckoff, as well as Jack DiFalco as David, Ward Horton as Ed, Roxanna Hope Radja as Laurel, and Michael Hsu Rosen as Alan.

“Torch Song” features scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting design by David Lander; sound design by John Gromada; hair design by Charles G. LaPointe; make-up design by Joe Dulude II; and casting by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Torch Song” plays at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (240 West 44th Street) on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://torchsongbroadway.com/ or call 212-239-6200. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Michael Urie and Jack DiFalco in the revival of “Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 2, 2018