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THEATER REVIEW: Old Globe's “Rafta, Rafta...” suffers from predictability

Clashes – generational, marital and ethnic – are the topics of “Rafta, Rafta...,” a plodding, predictable sitcom dressed up with British accents and spiffy East Indian costumes.

Playwright Ayub Khan-Din’s show hit it big in London four years ago, winning the 2008 Olivier for best new comedy. Now it’s crossed the pond and is at the Old Globe Theatre, where it plays through April 24.

The play opens with the wedding of a handsome young Indian couple in Bolton, a working-class suburb of Manchester. Atul Dutt (Rachid Sabitri) and Vina Patel (Mahira Kakkar, resplendent in a traditional red wedding dress) marry and move in with Atul’s dad Eeshawar (Kamal Marayati) and mom Lopa (Geeta Citygirl Chopra).

That last is their first mistake. Aside from the obvious proximity problems, there’s the generational communication gap: Atul and his dad have been talking at each other for years, but little real communication has taken place.

Eeshwar is old school – he and his best friend relocated to England as young men, where they struggled with socially-imposed discrimination born of differentness. But Eeshwar got a factory job, stayed there and built a life, and doesn’t understand why Atul doesn’t do likewise. He’s mystified that his son’s job count is already up to six.

In addition, though dad loves both Atul and his son Jai (Ariya Ghahramani), he is utterly unaware that his bull-in-a-china-shop approach is often hurtful. For example, a “friendly” post-wedding arm wrestling match results in a loss of face and unnecessary embarrassment for Atul.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of, um, husbandly performance in such a setting. ‘Nuff said.

We have a pair of meddling in-laws as well, and Chopra’s long-suffering mom Lopa, who holds the disparate pieces of this thin plot together with sheer determination.

The young couple is charming and convincing as the young generation that wants to edge away from the traditions of the past.

Bless the actors, who work their hearts out, but the material just seems stale and dated.

Christal Weatherly’s costumes do a good job of contrasting old and new. Alexander Dodge’s dual-level set is lovely but looks more spacious than the script intends.

The show ends with a Bollywood finale that revives some of the sagging energy of the plot’s predictability. But by then it’s too late.

The details

“Rafta, Rafta...” plays through April 24 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.