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Theater review: 'A Widow of No Importance' at East West Players

September 15, 2011 | 11:48 am

You never know when you’ll need a Post-it. Those sticky yellow squares come in awfully handy in “A Widow of No Importance,” Shane Sakhrani’s broad, buoyant comedy now receiving its world premiere at East West Players. Anchored by winning performances from its romantic leads, this “Something’s Gotta Give”-style sex comedy gains added spice from its colorful Mumbai setting.

Two years after her husband’s death, Deepa (Lina Patel) is a proper Indian widow: She dresses only in white, stays at homeand prays to Krishna. Meanwhile, her leggy, free-spirited daughter, Tara (Puja Mohindra), prefers “Sex and the City” to spiritual meditation. Even worse, she’d rather go to graduate school in America than submit to an arranged marriage. 

This generation gap narrows unexpectedly after a desperate confession by next-door neighbor Vinod (Sunil Malhotra), a childhood friend of Deepa’s son, Sandeep (Parvesh Cheena). It seems mild-mannered accountant Vinod, recently divorced, has always been madly in love with Deepa. Despite the widow’s shocked resistance, the younger man sweeps her into a fantasy world of passion. (After first covering the eyes of her late husband’s portrait with a certain office supply.)

What will she tell her children, especially after Tara develops her own feelings for Vinod? This guy is so sensitive, he kisses books when they fall off the shelf. Clearly a keeper.

Sure, it’s a sitcom setup. But what sells this familiar material is the verve with which it’s delivered. Director Shaheen Vaaz isn’t afraid to go big with the comedy, a strategy that works because of her disciplined cast.

The immensely appealing Patel can turn on a dime between nervous mom and ravished diva. Malhotra equally convinces as a suicidal jilted husband and a goofy lover with a penchant for playing dress-up (the vivid costumes are by Melanie Watnick). Even Anjali Bhimani as Deepa’s gold-digging matchmaker friend manages to pull off her “Real Housewives of Mumbai” shtick. (Or is it just that killer sari she’s wearing?)

Sakhrani doesn’t want to dig too deeply into why Indian culture puts its widows in lockdown, or the reasons Vinod might have the hots for his friend’s mom. In its genial way, “Widow” is content to acknowledge the universal conundrum of how women can be true to themselves and the families to whom they feel responsible. One option? Have some Bollywood dance moves even your daughter can’t match.

--Charlotte Stoudt

“A Widow of No Importance,” Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 9. $25 to $35. Contact: (213) 625-7000 or Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.  

Photo: Lina Patel and Sunil Malhotra. Credit: Michael Lamont.