Adeel Ahmed, Anita Sabherwal, Faizul Khan, 
James Rana, and Sunita S. Mukhi
in Rangoon
(© Corky Lee)
Adeel Ahmed, Anita Sabherwal, Faizul Khan,
James Rana, and Sunita S. Mukhi
in Rangoon
(© Corky Lee)
Playwright Mayank Keshaviah explores an Indian immigrant's struggle to reach his idealized version of the American dream in Rangoon, now being presented by Pan Asian Repertory at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. And while the well-intentioned play is filled (to the point of being overstuffed) with important issues, the production, directed with a perfunctory bluntness by Raul Aranas, only sporadically sparks to life.

The play's hero, 50-year-old Dhiraj Patel (played with uncertainty by Faizul Khan), came to this country with more than his fair share of baggage. Not only was he unable to enter university in India when he failed to pass his tests by a mere two points, he was also rejected by the woman he loved because her family deemed him to be "too dark."

It's with this history -- along with the sense of both entitlement and loss he feels about the family fortune that was stolen from his grandfather in Rangoon -- that Dhiraj has attempted to raise his family in the U.S., working as a manager in one of several 7-Eleven stores that are owned by his much-resented cousin (played with spritely bonhomie by James Rana), who has stalwartly refused to allow Dhiraj to become a partner in the business.

Keshaviah's play not only examines how Dhriaj struggles to attain the sort of success he dreams of, but his distress with the ways in which his family -- college freshman Tejal (Anita Sabherwal), high school senior Vinay (Adeel Ahmed), and wife Seema (Sunita S. Mukhi) -- have adopted primarily American ways of living. Dhiraj is particularly concerned about his hip-hop influenced son's college applications, which are taking a back-burner to his life on the basketball court.

Underneath the family drama, problems at the store brew for Dhiraj, particularly with the many visits he receives from Marge (played with gentle charm by Kylie Delre), a waitress at a nearby Shoney's. Moreover, Dhiraj must deal with the echoes of his past -- brought to life with appearances by the ghost of his sage grandfather (Krishen Mehta).

It's a lot to pack into a two-hour drama, and as the episodic play moves from the store to the Patel household (indicated by projections in Kaori Akazawa's spare scenic design), theatergoers sense that the playwright is merely dutifully maneuvering through a checklist of the issues -- from loss of cultural identity and traditions to the spiritual nature of success -- that his characters face, rather than exploring them with needed depth.

Luckily, the work springs to life whenever Ahmed's naturally gawky, vivacious, and rebellious Vinay or Mukhi's wry yet beatific Seema come to the fore. Both performers bring comic zest to the production, while also mining their characters' troubled emotional cores, particularly Mukhi, who blends sadness, resignation and bitterness beautifully when she describes the circumstances of her marriage.