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picture - Rafta RaftaTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published May 16, 2008


Rafta, Rafta …

now playing Off Broadway at the Acorn @ Theater Row

through June 7


Scott Elliott is one of Off-Broadway’s treasures. Although his excursions into the rarefied Broadway arena are very often uncharacteristically compromised, for reasons that are not always clear, he very rarely goes amiss within the confines of his own theater, The New Group. There, he chooses plays that are not only right for the theater but which respond most magically to his directorial approach, which is to create, out of behavioral tics, a lovely and muted sense of verisimilitude. Has he ever thought, one wonders, of directing one of Lanford Wilson’s plays, whose writing style would seem a perfect fit for his particular talents? In the meantime, he has brought us the work of Mike Leigh and David Rabe and Ayub Khan-Din, among others, and they, in turn, have found in Elliott a most sensitive and intelligent interpreter. In his production of Rafta, Rafta…, Mr. Khan-Din’s new comedy based on Bill Naughton’s 1963 play All in Good Time (and its subsequent film version, The Family Way, which gave Hayley Mills her first adult role), not every member of the cast is up to Elliott’s directorial standards, but, together, they create an effective ensemble, and one leaves the theater feeling that one has spent some time with a handful of real people, decent and flawed and thoroughly human.


The story follows a young married couple, who must live with the young man’s parents, and who, despite a sexual life prior to their marriage, find that they cannot reach consummation once inside the family bedroom, their privacy severely hampered by the presence of the innocently pesky folks with whom they are sharing not only a house but a honeymoon. The young wife finally shares her travails with her mother, who then relates them to her father, who then bring the news home to the groom’s parents, and, in the process, everyone’s own little peculiarities are revealed bit by bit, reaching a crescendo of confusion and stupidity, which, in its narrowness of vision, is immediately identifiable as something altogether too familiar. In turning Naughton’s working-class Britishers into the new burgeoning Indian working-class, Khan-Din has given the play warmth and compassion, so that it never sinks into a premise for a sitcom, which it so easily could have done. And the revelations bring with them not only the bitterness of truth but the comic possibilities that exist hand-in-hand with such revelations.


There is great laughter in Rafta, Rafta…, and Elliott deftly milks every possible laugh to great advantage, but the concentration here is less on the jokes than on the odd little quirks that help people maneuver their way through life, quirks that prove as bruising as they are funny. And that is not only the virtue of the play, but of Elliott’s approach to the material. The entire cast does, as reported, very good work, but Sarita Choudhury and Sakina Jaffrey as the two mothers are most memorably vivid. And Ranjit Chowdhry, as the groom’s father, beautifully captures, in his willful tenacity, both the foolishness and the pride of someone who simply cannot see what is so patently wrong with his own code of behavior.


Derek McLane, whose set designs are a highlight of almost every play he works on, has very smartly created the bridge between British life and Indian culture, and is, in addition, thanks to some help from Jason Lyons’ lighting, an homage to the faulty wiring that illumimates the hominess of these absurdly touching people. All told, then, this is pretty solid work from Scott Elliott and his gang at The New Group.


harveyperr @


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