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India Pale Ale

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

India Pale Ale

Purva Bedi, Shazi Raja, Angel Desai in India Pale Ale: Photo by Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Jaclyn Backhaus' discerning India Pale Ale takes place in the middle of America where the third-generation Batra family lives, following their Sihk traditions yet also interacting with the culture where they live. Says Sonny Batra (Alok Tewari), the father of a second-generation Punjabi family, at the end of the show, "Our play is ended on a bridge between us built by something as small as a bite, as big as a meal." The wrapped samosas are then passed out through the audience, where a piece is torn off and the rest passed on to others.

Produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, director Will Davis presents the Batra family of Raymond, Wisconsin and its sizable Punjabi population. The play features only one white man, Tim (Nate Miller), a friend of the focal character, Basminder or "Boz" (Shazi Raja). Boz, is the imaginative family rebel, living out a myth of piracy and adventure, believing she is descended from a pirate named Brownbeard. It is a fantasy that plays out several times in her life.

Almost 30 years old, Boz has saved her money and now wants to move to nearby Madison and open a bar, an idea that will outrage her close family and community. She plans to brew and sell India Pale Ale.

At the top of the play, her mother, Deepa (Purva Bedi) is cleaning and cooking for her son Iggy's (Sathya Sridharan) engagement to a pretty though silly Lovi (Lipica Shah). Preparing the food, Deepa confides in her feisty best friend, Simran Rayat (Angel Desai), about overhearing Boz' moving plans, news that is sure to shock the father, Sunny, who is now praying at the gurdwara temple.

That night at the engagement party, the community gathers, including the sharp-talking grandmother Dadi Parminder (Sophia Mahmud), Vishal, Iggy's friend Mishal (Nik Sadhnani), and Boz' ex-suitor, Vishal Singh (Nik Sadhahi). With music, dancing (choreography by Will Davis), sharing rotis,  samoas, and beer, Boz realizes that now is the time to tell her father that she is leaving.

Act Two opens one year later in Madison where Boz is struggling with the Bar, called IPA (India Pale Ale). She befriends one customer, Tim, who is curious about Boz' background, this unfamiliar beer she crafts, her religion and family. She tries to answer his endless questions and begins to feel like her life is “a series of teachable moments.”

Suddenly, the door to the bar opens and her old beau, Vishal, is standing there. He tells Boz that there was a vicious racist attack back home and she must return at once. Boz tosses the bar keys to Tim and she takes off to see her family.

For the trip home, Boz summons her inner pirate strength for the courage to face the somber news. Her father is one who has been killed in the attack and the community is distraught and infuriated. We watch an extended fantasy segment unravel, telling the story of Brownbeard. The cast is dressed in 17th century costumes designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, dancing to original music by Elisheba Ittroop. Through her performance, Shazi Raza's portrayal of Boz is inhabited with energy, determination and ferver.

This segment, however, gets tiresome, lifting again when Bos is back home again with family and friends.  Even Tim comes by to give Boz her keys and his support. Nate Miller portrays Tim's affability as he interacts with the family and slowly the play lifts as the family recovers, finds their sense of joy and fun, food and their embracing of hope, tradition and love. "This place was taken from us and yet we go on sharing." Tempting aromas fill the theater with the various spices and flavors. The setting by Neil Patel is a spare stage with a long table, prepared food brought out periodically from an off-stage kitchen.

A heartfelt message of hope and understanding through tea and traditional food may sound simplistic but passing out the samosas serves as a caring gesture and understanding. The bridge they begin building is through friendship and forgiveness. Although India Pale Ale is more lightweight than heavy drama, it is sincere and brimming with good vibes, delivering an evident message at this divisive time, especially coming after the PIttsburgh attack on worshippers only days before.

India Pale Ale

MTC New York City Center-Stage 1 131 West 55th Street
131 West 55th Street New York, NY
Previews: Oct. 2, 2018. Opening: Oct. 23, 2018. Closing: Nov. 28, 2018
Running time: Two hours. One intermission.
Cast: Purva Bedi(Deepa Batra), Angel Desai(Simran Rayat), Sophia Mahmud(Dadi Parminder), Nate Miller(Tim), Shazi Raja(Basminder "Boz" Batra), Nik Sadhnan(Vishal Singh), Lipica Shah(Lovi), Sathya Sridhara(Iggi Bstts) and Alok Tewari(Sunny Padra)
Playwright: Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed: Will Davis.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
October 2018

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