Theater review: 'Rafta, Rafta ...' at the Old Globe in San Diego
The familiar contours of countless domestic comedies get a curried shake-up in "Rafta, Rafta ..." at the Old Globe in San Diego. This West Coast premiere of Ayub Khan-Din's 2007 British hit about young Indian newlyweds living with the groom's family is hardly fresh, despite major bhangra gyrations to convince the audience otherwise.
It starts promisingly as a festive wedding party, costumed by designer Christal Weatherly, gleefully traipses down the aisle, welcoming us en route. After a compressed ceremony before Alexander Dodge's pink-and-orange-flowered show curtain, the celebrants proceed onto his serviceable but under-detailed set.
Welcome to the Dutt domicile in Bolton, England, where sensitive eldest son Atul (Rachid Sabitri) brings bride Vina (Mahira Kakkar) in lieu of a honeymoon. Lopa (Geeta Citygirl Chopra), Atul's acerbic mother, is the household's engine; Eeshwar (Kamal Marayati), her bluffly tyrannical husband, is its overlord. Younger son Jai (Ariya Ghahramani) represents the assimilated next generation.
Even with the Hindi and digital age terms that author Khan-Din ladles onto his source -- Bill Naughton's 1963 boulevardier "All in Good Time" -- "Rafta" labors under a dated, conventional premise. After Atul and Vina's disastrous wedding night, it's clear that the proximity of his clan, particularly Dad, prohibits consummation of their sexual congress. Six weeks later, Vina remains a virgin, Atul faces suspicions of being gay and their kin are akimbo. Of course, all leads to an intended heart-tugging happy resolution and Bollywood-style curtain call.
Director Jonathan Silverstein stages the calculated clashes and lowbrow humor as straightforwardly as possible. Makkar's charming bride and Chopra's zinger-ready matriarch are the standouts of a competent, hardworking cast, although Sabitri's groom and Marayati's paterfamilias are still finding their rhythms, the least of this bland tandoori's liabilities. That "Rafta, Rafta ..." won the Olivier Award suggests 2007 was a skimpy year for comedies in London. Undemanding patrons may enjoy its sitcom turns, but the titular translation -- "Slowly, Slowly" -- is, alas, truth in advertising.
-- David C. Nichols in San Diego
"Rafta, Rafta ...," Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Also 2 p.m. April 13, no matinee April 16. Ends April 24. $29-$85. (619) 23-GLOBE or www.TheOldGlobe.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Photo: A scene from "Rafta, Rafta ..." with Gita Reddy, from left, Geeta Citygirl Chopra, Mahira Kakkar, Caralyn Kozlowski, Kamal Marayati, Ariya Ghahramani. On floor - Rachid Sabitri. Credit: Henry DiRocco.