Rasaka Theatre’s current production is the Midwest premier of Madhuri Shekar’s A Nice Indian Boy, Running through March 8 at Victory Gardens.. Full disclosure my wife Kate Setzer Kamphausen is the Costume Designer for the production
A Nice Indian Boy is a poignant family comedy that explore the meaning of love marriage, gender, ethnicity and the adaptation and transmission of tradition. We the theater goer are simply dropped into an episode in the life of an Indian immigrant family. The mother and father (Megha Gavaskar and Artchit Gavaskar) were born and married in India and then immigrated to the U.S where they had and have raised their two children (Arundhathi and Naveen) in the San Francisco Bay area. We meet this family as the son Naveen (the youngest of the two children) has met and is in a serious relationship with his boyfriend, Keshav.
On the day Naveen has planned to introduce Keshav to his parents his sister, who lives in New York, shows up unannounced and without her husband. In this scene tensions mount in both hilarity and painful to watch misunderstanding and retrenchment. Arundhathi, reveals that she has felt pressured into the marriage her parents arranged (as their marriage was arranged) and is resentful of how they now seem so accepting of her brothers not only choosing whom he will be with but that he is bringing home a boy. the boyfriend is both more Indian than Indian and not what Archit and Megha expected.
As a comedy the rest of the play works out these tensions as characters wrestle with love, family acceptance and how to maintain ethnic identity and traditions. Resolution comes as it becomes apparent that tradition and identity are more fluid, richer and more complex than we may at first perceive, especially when we feel that identity threatened by the unexpected.
A controlling trope through which the play works out these tensions is cooking. Rasaka’s production of the play draws out how even the structure of the play progresses like a meal being cooked. At the beginning of the play the members of this family are all very distinct and separate. It was almost hard to see what their family life was like. The distinct and sharp character traits of each individual character is up front, like the separate ingredients of a dish as one gather’s up all the ingredients for a meal or dish. Over the course of the play the characters slowly blend and aspects of their characters that stood out against others blends with and heightens traits of other characters, like a well cooked dish where each ingredient is recognized but not as itself but in its interaction with other flavors and textures.
Cooking also is central to the story as both Achit and Keshav, love to cook. Both are men, and slowly it is revealed that Megha doesn’t cook and hasn’t cooked for the entirety of their marriage except for the first week when she ruined every dish she cooked, and one night woke to her new husband cooking in the kitchen. She and her husband had a feast of food he cooked, and Megha hasn’t cooked since. Archit though is very particular of following his mother and grandmothers recipes, yet when it came to the recipe of marriage and gender roles in marriage, Archit and Megha have already changed up the ingredients.
The play ends happily and with the family having become comfortable with the tensions and more aware of how one can play with the recipe and yet still have the same dish. However, all isn’t resolved. We leave them to live out their lives. A Nice Indian Boy leaves the audience savoring and ruminating upon the complexity and richness of ethnic identity and traditions.