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January 24, 2000
Sakina's Restaurant' moves to LA
Arthur J Pais
Sakina's Restaurant, Aasif Mandvi's historic play, which is the first off-Broadway and mainstream American play to focus on the lives of south Asian immigrants, recently opened in Los Angeles where it is expected to run till March 5.
But if the strong reviews are any indication, the one-man show, also written by Mandvi, will go the New York way. It was scheduled to run for about three months but ran for nearly 10 months in New York.
During the last 12 months, Mandvi has taken the play to a number of American cities, including Princeton and Chicago, where he has performed for Indian American causes. For instance, he had a benefit show for Sakhi, the women's empowerment group; he performed for India Development Service last March in Chicago.
Sakina's Restaurant is a fictional New York cafe where Mandvi serves up laughter, pathos, wisdom and folkloric Indian stories as he tries to make sense of America. Kim Hughes has directed the play.
Critical acclaim played an important part in making the show a big hit in New York and Toronto.
"It touched emotional chords in many immigrants," Mandvi says. "The Indian immigrant experience finds resonance in other people. The conflict between parents and children over cultural choices, for instance, is not solely an Indian American phenomenon."
The Village Voice wrote: 'Mandvi's seven-character meditation on the south Asian immigrant experience showcases his excellent sense of physical comedy... poignant... riveting and hilarious.' According to In Theater magazine, Mandvi's characters -- Hakim, Sakina, Samir, Ali, Farrida and Azgi -- are as 'sharply-etched as anything envisioned by Eric Bogosian, Danny Hoch or John Leguizamo'. The New York Times raved 'funny and endearing... Its revelations apply to anyone who feels the pull of two cultures.'
The Los Angeles Times wrote: 'Mandvi presents most of his characters one at a time, yet they're generally speaking not in monologues but in conversations with one other person, who's clearly identified but unheard by the audience. This technique produces a few too many lines in which Mandvi's character repeats what the other person has supposedly just said, but it's not a major problem.'
The critic liked the sequence in which Sakina is wavering between a boyfriend who isn't even sure if she's Indian or Iranian, and a fellow Indian immigrant, who was picked for her by her parents. We hear her side of a confrontation with the clueless US boyfriend, who challenged her to tear up a photo of his rival. Her reaction to that challenge is a crackling dramatic moment.
'Just as good is a scene in which her young brother, Samir, on a trip back to India for his grandmother's funeral, flies into a tantrum when asked to donate some of his American toys to his cousin,' the Times said.
"A glimpse of Sakina's guilt-wracked fiance visiting a prostitute on the eve of his medical school finals and his wedding, is also intriguing.'
The daily also praised Mandvi's resourcefulness:
'Mandvi uses only his own mimetic skill and a few basic props and suggestions of costumes to differentiate the characters, but nothing is unclear.'
Aasif Mandvi is now looking for finance to make a film out of his hit play.
Sakina's Restaurant will play at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S Sepulveda Blvd, West LA, Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 pm; Sundays, 7 pm except on February 13 and 27 when it will be at 2 pm. The stint ends on March 5.
For more information, call(310) 477-2055. Tickets cost $ 18.50-$ 22.50.
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