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Indian dressing in multicultural salad

The play is being promoted as a celebration of life, love and community, but it turns out to be a conglomeration of too many disparate elements.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2007 23:36 IST

Its hero may be an Indian American, a Kerala dance form may inspire it, and its final denouement reminiscent of the Shakuntala-Dushyant story, but the musical "Queens Boulevard" remains essentially a celebration of mutli-culturalism epitomised by the Queens borough of New York.

The play's restless writer, Charles Mee, avowedly seeks out influences from foreign lands and cultures. For his latest offering running till January 3 at Signature Theatre's off-Broadway production, he found the inspiration while in Kerala.

He has transplanted the Kathakali story Kalyana Saunghandikam (The Flower of Good Fortune) in modern time Queens, where almost half the residents are foreign born.

Vijay, the hero of "Queens Boulevard", goes out on his wedding night to fetch a special flower for his Japanese American bride, Shizuko. Once out, he is thrown into a series of adventures and misadventures, including being mistaken for a human trafficking agent and landing in lock up.

Eventually, he finds the flower and returns home even as a sutradhar finishes narrating Shakuntala's story of reunion with her forgetful husband.

The play is being promoted as a celebration of life, love and community, but it turns out to be a conglomeration of too many disparate elements. The various communities and cultures too don't blend. They remain separate as in a salad, in which Indian elements are only the dressing.

What you get to see and hear -- and occasionally laugh at - are men's (locker room) views of women, and women's (powder room) views of men.

The sweet-sour experience of the new immigrants, mainly Asians, to the US is there as are the not-so-well-integrated song and dance sequences, borrowing from bhangra, Japanese, Greek and other music traditions.

Amir Arison, an Israeli American who has essayed many Indian roles, including mathematician Ramanujam in "A First Class Man", an Alter Ego production, plays Vijay.

His Vijay is too naive; The New York Times called him stiff. Michi Barall as the effervescent Shizuko is charming.

From the three Indian Americans in the cast, Debargo Sanyal impresses as the overenthusiastic, over-talking Indian paan-beedi guy. Satya Bhabha is the sutradhar but does not have much to do or say. Neither does Gita Citygirl besides singing and dancing in ensembles.

The set design spills out of the stage, with neon signs and hoardings and knickknacks from mom-and-pop stores as in the South Asian-dominated Jackson Heights and Chinese-Japanese dominated Flushing.

Signature is a not-for-profit theatre company, allowing it to sell tickets at a low $20, compared to $50 upwards for Broadway productions.

Charles Mee is their playwright-in-residence of the year. Davis McCullam, a veteran in the field, has directed "Queens Boulevard".