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Rafta, Rafta

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It’s not a dysfunctional family, really, but the members have different opinions about norms and values in today’s world. Generational divisions account for most of those variant views, which cause some friction, which can escalate to heated conflict. Parents try to solve their adult children’s problems, while neglecting to address some of their own.

Sound familiar?

Indian playwright Ayub Khan-Din thought so when he crafted his Oliver Award-winning comedy, Rafta, Rafta…, some years after his family’s viewing of a BBC film based on British author, Bill Naughton’s  All in Good Time. Jewish director Jonathan Silverstein thought so, too, when San Diego’s  Old Globe Theatre tapped him to direct its production of Khan-Din’s adaptation. Based on the audience’s uproarious laughter, Southern Californians agree that family life contains some universal themes.

What better situation to illustrate that commonality than a wedding and its aftermath?  Such is the circumstance that begins the story of the Patels and the Dutts, the latter Indian immigrants, as they negotiate their individual and collective places in a newly blended family living in Northern England. Early on, the generational divide between immigrant parents and modern children come to light in charming flickers of dialogue. The bride has gifted her groom a Blackberry. The bride’s father had received a water buffalo from his own father.

Comedy is perhaps the most challenging genre, demanding impeccable timing and teamwork. Without that combination, this play would slip into caricature, or, worse, slapstick. Not to worry, for this cast and its director have produced a thoroughly modern marvel of a show. 

The opening dance scene, like a clip straight out of a Bollywood musical or “Slumdog Millionaire,” sets the tone for the lively action surrounding the marriage of Atul Dutt and his bride, Vina Patel, who will live in the family home. The moment his parents, Lopa and Eeshwar, welcome the new in-laws, Laxman and Lata, to their home for post-ceremony food and drink, the groom begins to grapple (both emotionally and physically) with his male relationships. Rachid Sabitri skillfully manages to keep the conflicted, somewhat immature Atul a sympathetic, albeit self-centered, character. Atul and his hard-headed father (a marvelously authentic Kamal Marayati) have the most difficult issues, but each of the men wrestles to find his own position in the familial and working class hierarchy. Somewhat outside, yet trying to accommodate, is Vina’s proud papa Laxman Patel (a sincere and amusing Nasser Faris), whose mysterious resentment of his wife causes much of the play’s tension. 

Not that the women are struggle-free. As a new bride and working woman, Vina (Mahira Kakkar) must come to terms with a life away from her comfortable home and doting father while tip-toeing around a house that is not her own and a husband who is not quite himself. Her circumstances produce the play’s more distressing moments, and Kakkar handles them all without a smidge of pathos. Trying to assist her, but succeeding only in making quite a mess, is her naïve mother Lata (Gita Reddy). Reddy’s wonderful bits of hand-waving to flick away negative thoughts are among the play’s funniest. Equally adept is Geeta Citygirl Chopra, who gives Atul’s shrewd, but insightful, mother Lopa the perfect vulnerability that hides beneath the brassy confidence. 

As is often the case in families of all ages and backgrounds, when the in-laws step in to solve the newlyweds’ problems, they end up revealing more about themselves than about their offspring. In this play, the revelations move from comedic to poignant and back again. More modern than Lata, Lopa uses euphemisms such as “No new planting in the Shalimar garden,” in trying to enlighten Vina’s naïve mother. The heretofore dictatorial Eeshwar tells a story of long-lost friendship that explains much of his marital relationship and puzzling resentment. Laxman has an equally telling story that unties the conflicting knots between him and Lata. There are dozens of such intricately woven stories within this play, making the entire work a tree of life tapestry.

The well-drawn minor characters include the cross-cultural couple, Jivaj (Amir Darvish) and Molly Bhatt (Caralyn Kozlowski) and Atul’s boss Etash Tailor (Shalin Agarwal), all of whom come to appealing life, thanks to the actors’ flair for balancing cleverness and silliness. 

This is a comedy, after all. All of the difficulties and challenges will be met. All of the mysteries of these familial relationships will be solved. Forgiveness  and redemption will come from understanding and love. Nevertheless, familiarity, in this case, does not preclude a very engaging, somewhat surprising, story appropriate for both generations. 

Rafta, Rafta . . . continues on The Old Globe Theatre stage in San Diego’s Balboa Park through April 24.
Showtimes are: Tues-Weds at 7 p.m.; Thurs-Sat at 8 p.m.; Sun at 7 p.m.; Sat & Sun matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $29-$85, with discounts for full-time students, patrons under 29, seniors and groups.
Reservations: or by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE.



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.