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Rafta, Rafta

Ayub Khan-Din's hilarious and touching comedy about marriage features a gifted cast. logo
Sarita Choudhury, Reshma Shetty, Sakina Jaffrey,
and Alison Wright in Rafta, Rafta
(© Monique Carboni)
A young newlywed couple find themselves unable to consummate their marriage in Ayub Khan-Din's hilarious and touching comedy Rafta, Rafta, making its New York premiere courtesy of The New Group. The work is adapted from Bill Naughton's 1963 play All in Good Time, with Khan-Din successfully transferring that show's working-class provincial English environment to a South Asian community in Britain.

Following their traditional Indian wedding, Atul Dutt (Manish Dayal) and Vina Patel (Reshma Shetty) move in with Atul's parents Eeshwar (Ranjit Chowdhry) and Lopa (Sakina Jaffrey), in order to save some money. Unfortunately, the thinness of the walls affords little privacy and causes some unforeseen complications. Things only get worse once Vina's parents Lata (Sarita Choudhury) and Laxman (Alok Tewari) get involved, and rumors start to spread.

Khan-Din's spot-on dialogue and Scott Elliott's crisp direction allow all of the dysfunctional family dynamics to play out in an engaging and often thought-provoking manner. The play's highlight is a scene between both sets of parents, in which their attempts to figure out what's wrong with their childrens' relationship exposes the flaws and rifts in the older couples' own marriages.

The standout in this gifted cast is Jaffrey, who perfectly captures Lopa's clipped but caring manner. She is defensive of Atul to Eeshwar while being equally quick to defend her husband from her son's criticisms. Choudhury is also extraordinary, milking her character's annoying traits for all they're worth while still allowing the audience to see her vulnerability, as in a devastating moment in the second act in which Lata struggles to control her emotions after Laxman makes a particularly cruel remark.

Chowdhry gets the bulk of the laughs as the self-centered but well-meaning Eeshwar. Dayal wears Atul's resentment of his father a little too plainly in the initial scenes, but is absolutely heartbreaking when Atul finally confronts his dad about why they never seem able to talk. Shetty does a fine job as the frustrated but loving Vina. The remaining ensemble members -- Utkarsh Ambudkar, Satya Bhabha, Sean T. Krishnan, and Alison Wright -- also do good work.

Derek McLane's gorgeous set uses a palette of mostly red, maroon, and gold along with various South Asian accents, to decorate the Dutt family home. There is, however, a second act scene that plays awkwardly, as it would logically seem to occur at Atol's workplace, but is staged in the Dutt's kitchen and living room. Shane Rettig's sound design -- which includes running water, flushing toilets, and other noises -- underscores just how easily noise travels in the house. DJ Rekha's original Bhangra music is spectacular, setting the tone for most of the show, and -- along with Jason Lyons' terrific lighting design -- lending a deliciously over-the-top flavor to a crucial Act Two scene between Atul and Vina.

While the ending of the play is fairly predictable, it's the getting there that makes Rafta, Rafta such an enjoyable experience. The title, by the way, is derived from the Bollywood film song of the same name and translates as "slowly, slowly." But I'd recommend you book your tickets to the show quickly, quickly.

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