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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