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Theater review: 'The Indians Are Coming to Dinner' at Pacific Theatre

March 8, 2012 |  4:30 pm

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Awful parents are the maligned muses of great theater: Consider “Medea,” “The Glass Menagerie” or “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.” But in “The Indians Are Coming to Dinner,” now at the Pacific Resident Theatre, playwright Jennifer W. Rowland hasn’t quite found the right balance between dysfunction and good drama.

That isn’t to say this period piece, set just after Reagan’s landslide election in 1984, doesn’t have its pleasures. Director Julia Fletcher finds satirical bounce in this portrait of a privileged Bay Area family going to pieces on Tom Buderwitz’s bougie two-story set.

Blustering patriarch Harold (Michael Rothhaar) thinks he can wrangle an ambassadorship out of influential Anil (Kevin Vavasseur) over chickpea curry and poached pears. This act of strategic dining happens to fall on the same evening Harold’s daughter, Alexandra (Thea Rubley), is singing in an opera competition.

Throw in a pot-smoking son (Justin Preston), a pearl-twirling wife (the delightful Sara Newman), a passive-aggressive servant (Peter Chen), and you’ve got a full house primed for farce.

But the more Rowland insists that Harold is a father who never knows best, the more the play stalls. Is this oblivious fogey a symbol of the Reagan era? What is he in the play to express beyond his own narcissism? Rothhaar throws himself into the role, but his Harold exhausts rather than intrigues. Happily, you can sit back and enjoy Chen and Newman’s deadpan double act, where Rowland’s talent for social comedy shines. 

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--Charlotte Stoudt

“The Indians Are Coming to Dinner,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 8. $20-$28. (310) 822-8392 or www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. 

Photo: Michael Rothhaar and Sara Newman. Credit: Vitor Martins

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