Seen Off Broadway: Comedy-dramas that keep it in the family top the new season. Playwright Ayub Khan-Din took a 1963 chestnut from England’s Bill Naughton, All in Good Time, brought it up to date chiefly by repopulating it with Anglo-Indian characters, and came up with the West End hit Rafta, Rafta…The New Group has imported the show to its home on Theatre Row and has come up with one of its warmest and most winning shows, a late Spring/early Summer balm to the senses. In the adaptation (the original was the basis for the 1966 film The Family Way, with John Mills and daughter Hayley Mills), Atul Dutt (Manish Dayal) has married Vina Patel (Reshma Shetty), and the radiant young couple nervously settles in for wedlock. The show’s title translates to “slowly, slowly,” and with great tact, purposefulness and lovingness on the part of Khan-Din and director Scott Elliott we are drawn into the world of these irascible, difficult, non-communicative or too-communicative characters. Beautifully acted (all the actors have different sides to show, with Chowdhry a delight as a sullen dad obliged to open up to his troubled son), the production is completely embraceable.
Rafta, Raft has a splendid setting, perfectly crammed into the Acorn Theatre, and it does what the best sets do: It becomes a character in its own right, one with standout moments that also blends in. His two-story house, a mélange of reds and golds, is impressively detailed down to the glasses and dinner plates, by turns homey and oppressive. Atul is a projectionist, and the décor includes Bollywood posters; the milieu is familiar to him, but the proudly impassive movie-star faces seem to mock his failure as a husband. Jason Lyons’ lighting contentedly illuminates this already colorful environment, then gets its gaudily stylized close-up for a second act moment long in the making. Contributing to the house-proud design is Shane Rettig’s audio design, which has to rise above the deep, low-slung set and is continually active with the inconvenient sound of flushing toilets. It also conveys, dynamically, an original Bhangra score by DJ Rekha. A word, too, for Theresa Squire’s costumes, gorgeous for the wedding, and a believably lived-in mix of East and West throughout. The show closes June 28.
Beauty and its discontents is the theme of Annie Baker’s Body Awareness, at Atlantic Stage 2 through June 22. As it happens, some of the same ground is covered by Neil LaBute’s typically punishing reasons to be pretty, at the Lucille Lortel. With David Gallo’s prison-like set fresh in my mind, that show gave me plenty of reasons to be surly at the prospect of more beauty pageantry just a few days later, but I was in for a surprise. Baker’s slyly funny play delivers a swift uppercut to LaBute’s usual conventions, and under Karen Kohlhaas’ confident direction it is quite beautiful.
Walt Spangler’s set is the biggest I’ve seen at the black box space, and it is used quite nicely. The show is set in Vermont, and a snow-covered fir tree frames the stage. That sets the scene, but also provides counterpoint; all is not well despite surface appearances. It’s not altogether Christmas within the home of Joyce (JoBeth Williams) and Phyllis (Mary McCann), a lesbian couple who share the modest, book-filled space with Joyce’s 21-year-old son, Jared (newcomer Jonathan Clem). The closed-off Jared may or may not have Asperger syndrome, but he has in no short supply the compulsive truth telling that comes with it.
The assurance extends to Spangler’s set, with its functional kitchen; the dining scenes, accented by a Jewish ritual that Frank shepherds in the non-denominational household, are realized with superb naturalism. His décor, including the feminist texts on the shelves, and Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s left-leaning costumes define the characters without parodying them. Jason Lyons has again lit a large set with precision and depth, and Anthony Gabriele’s audio has a nice bounce to it. I was thoroughly comfortable with Body Awareness.—Robert Cashill
Scenic Construction: Sightline Fabrication, The Ken Larson Company, and Beyond Imagination Inc. (Atul’s bed)
Lighting and Sound Equipment: GSD Productions
Additional Lighting Equipment: PRG