Intoxicating romance. Less precipitous affection that steadily builds. Madhuri Shekar’s 2014 play weighs and counterposes those two ideas of love while spooning out a tale of family, tradition, generational culture clash and food.
Representing heart-palpitating romance is the main storyline: the passion of Megha’s son Naveen (Carol Mazhuvancheril) for his boyfriend Keshav (Noah Israel), a fellow Hindu who happens to be Caucasian. In contrast to their son’s enchantment, the love between Megha and her husband Archit (Abhimanyu Katyal) has grown since their traditional Indian, seemingly arranged marriage.
When Naveen brings Keshav to meet his family at their Bay Area home without having sufficiently prepared them, complications ensue in a manner that echoes many rom-coms, with a touch of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Director Zi Alikhan keeps the proceedings lively, not least with a smashing dance sequence choreographed by Ambika Raina, also the show’s associate director. And Frank Oliva’s set, centered on a naturalistic kitchen, is laden with ingenious reveals as joyous as the dancing.
Archit, a talented cook, often busies himself in that kitchen, listening broodingly to nearby conversations. In the role, Katyal radiates slow-waters-run-deep intensity. But it’s Rathnam who really buoys the tale, displaying impeccable comic timing while revealing Megha’s determination and common sense. When Megha does a double take on hearing Keshav speak Hindi, the elated look in her eyes is priceless.
Mazhuvancheril gives Naveen a sweet nerdiness, and Israel shows the vulnerability in Keshav, who has embraced the culture of his Indian adoptive parents. The character of Naveen’s sister Arundhathi, as written, is more thematic device than personality — her marriage somewhat resembles her parents’ — and actress Jessica Jain hasn’t transcended that limitation.
The widely produced Shekar, described in her bio as an Indian playwright and screenwriter from California, has invested “Nice Indian Boy” with bracing specificity — talk of recipes, Hindu beliefs, the Bollywood blockbuster “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and more — and a moving appreciation for identity and heritage. But on the plot level, the play is less successful.
Unlike in Shekar’s “In Love and Warcraft,” a romantic comedy produced locally by No Rules Theatre Company in 2015, the narrative twists and rhythms in “Nice Indian Boy” feel shopworn and predictable. Rom-coms and sunny meet-the-parents yarns may objectively be predictable, of course, but they shouldn’t unremittingly feel that way.
A Nice Indian Boy by Madhuri Shekar. Directed by Zi Alikhan; costume design, Danielle Preston; lighting, Emma Deane; sound, Kenny Neal. About 100 minutes. Tickets: $54-$79. Through April 9 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. 301-924-3400. olneytheatre.org