Playwright: Shishir Kurup
At: Rasaka & Vitalist Theatre Companies at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $25. Runs through: April 15
There's this Hindu import-export mogul operating out of Los Angeles, you seeVenice Boulevard, to be exact. His Hollywood homey plans to woo a Monterey-county heiress to finance his next movie, but in order to raise travel money, they must secure a loan from the Muslim moneylender that both have previously vilified for his conservative practices. The Shia broker agrees to provide them the necessary funds, contingent on a contract involving collateral too grotesque to be taken seriouslyperhaps.
Wait! Didn't Shakespeare write a play very similar to this in 1596? Of course he didbut where that prototype described tensions between Christians and Jews, Shishir Kurup's examination focuses on prejudices within the South Asian immigrant community today, its divisive mistrust intensified by North American marginalization of their ethnic demographic as a whole. Even the casual conversation of allegedly sympathetic characters reveal xenophobic biases, as when our eligible bachelorette rejects a suitor, sight unseen, upon learning of his southern-region home town.
Kurup saves his deepest contemplations for the patriarchal enemies, though. Sharuk's obsessive lust for revenge is exacerbated by his rebellious daughter's pursuit of a tats-and-twerks recording-artist career with a LatinX musician, while Devender's closeted sorrow over his companion's betrayal plunges him into suicidal depression so acute that he welcomes the prospect of mutilation at the hand of a countryman as inflexible in honor as himself. Long after the question of who is right or wrong has been rendered moot, both continue to reject appeals to empathy, compassion and unity, making for a final image of two lonely men brought to ruin and shunned by their former kin.
Three hours may seem a protracted evening, but more than justifies itself in the sheer weight and complexity of the social issues under scrutiny. Audiences need not fear succumbing to culture shock, however. Vitalist director Liz Carlin Metz retains control of such diverse elements as Mumbai-style musical revels, comedic monologues delivered by servants and sidekicks, sweet nothings crooned by giddy lovers and iambic-pentameter oratory to ensure our full comprehension of the tragic discord arising from the elevation of petty differences over shared values.