“Rafta, Rafta…” at the Old Globe

Courtesy of Henry DiRocco

With light-hearted grace and an upbeat cadence, the play “Rafta, Rafta…” finds its space at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

“Rafta, Rafta…” is a comedy written by Ayub Khan-Din as an adaptation of Bill Naughton’s “All in Good Time.” After winning the 2008 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy at The National Theatre in London and boasting a positive reception of its subsequent New York production, “Rafta, Rafta…” makes its West Coast premiere under the direction of Jonathan Silverstein.

The play opens on the marriage of Atul (Rachid Sabitri) and Vina (Mahira Kakkar), a young Indian couple living in present-day England. With a dancing drumbeat and whirl of glittering costumes, the newlyweds are quickly whisked away to Atul’s parents’ house, where the two plan to live until they can save enough money for a place of their own. Somewhat irked by the boisterous merriment of the wedding party and the blatant chidings of his father, Atul is anxious to get out of the living room and spend some time alone with Vina.

However, when the couple is finally left to their bedroom void of distractions and pranks, Atul is horrified to discover that he is impotent — perhaps due to the overwhelming presence of his family or the societal expectations that he has as a husband, Atul and Vina cannot consummate their marriage, thus bringing shame upon Atul’s manhood and reputation.

The rest of the comedy playfully portrays the succeeding events that surround this unfortunate circumstance, highlighting the clashes between gender and generation in a warm, comedic light.

The story focuses mainly on Atul, Vina and both of their parents, and aside from a couple of extraneous characters Khan-Din could have done without, he portrays his front six endearingly well.

Atul and Vina attest for the younger generation, portraying the hopes and dreams of an up-and-coming class that is forced to find some sort of harmony in a world that is different from the one that their parents came from — while honoring their past, they must break tradition to make a new life and new culture that is their own. Sabitri and Kakkar play their characters well, embodying a youthful spirit panging with the passion that the young couple have for each other, despite the difficulties and frustrations.

Eeshwar and Lopa Dutt (Kamal Marayati and Geeta Citygirl Chopra, respectively) are Atul’s parents, and they relate to their son in very different ways.

Eeshwar relishes in his Indian tradition and is always quick to recount how he brought his family to England, building life out of a cardboard suitcase. With a Willy Loman-esque mentality, he refuses to be the dime-a-dozen Atul thinks he is. Though a smirk and a jest lighten the mood here and there, the traditional father-son conflict rests at the heart of the play as the two plead for each other’s acceptance and approval. Marayati plays his part brilliantly, his natural essence charming the audience with just the right amount of fatherly care.

Lopa balances her husband out perfectly, keeping the foot on the brake whenever Eeshwar speaks too far out of place. She has a profound love for her son, and it is this degree of protection that causes most of the bickering between her and her husband. Though firm, her graciousness adds to whatever tact Eeshwar may be lacking, and her snarky comments are funny, timely and always embellished at the end with unconditional love. Chopra accomplishes this attitude well, and the glow that she brings to the stage provides exactly what Lopa embodies for her family.

Laxman and Gita Patel, Vina’s parents, are substantially flatter characters, and their involvement in the story is slightly awkward and dry. The Patels’ entrance into scenes usually stops the candid flow that is already occurring onstage, and the sidebars that they provide for the story are lengthy and somewhat irrelevant. Though their characters provide a contrast to the Dutts’ relationship, Khan-Din tried to do too much by adding in another couple with another set of problems.

In general, most of the play’s off-shooting stories are too far-reaching for the amount of emphasis that the storyline as a whole allows, and ultimately they leave the audience feeling unsatisfied and confused. Because the entirety of the play occurs within the Dutts residence, it makes more sense to provide fuller characters for Atul’s parents, but the Patels’ storylines seem mostly extraneous.

The stage is kept very simple with little prop movement and virtually no scene changes, and the atmosphere is instantly comfortable with its bright colors and cheery lighting. Without many visual distractions, the play relies on the characters to carry the story, which they do with a foray of tongue-in-cheek jests, ethnic song singing and the traditional Bollywood-esque Bhangra dancing.

“Rafta, Rafta…” is a smart, fun and whimsical play that paints a real-life family dealing with all of the expected growing pains that comes with real life. “Rafta, rafta” translates in Hindi to “slowly, slowly,” capping the play with the feel-good moral that patience will always see you through, with a little laughter along the way. The Old Globe Theatre offers a variety of programming throughout the year, and “Rafta, Rafta…” will run until April 24.

Rating: 4/5 Stars