nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
May 31, 2012
Rangoon by Mayank Keshaviah is the engrossing story of Dhiraj, an Indian-American convenience store worker in the American South, and his family. His grandfather, who appears as a friendly ghost in the play, had lived in Burma and amassed much wealth and real estate. The family fled civil unrest in Burma, and the privileged life was over. Dhiraj (Faizul Khan) has worked hard to save enough for his children's college education, but is far from satisfied. As the author suggests in the playbill, there is much of Death of a Salesman in this story.
Dhiraj works almost all the time, and is amused at the Christmas tree his family put up without him. His wife Seema (Sunita S. Mukhi) learns that her 19 year-old daughter Tejal (Anita Sabherwal) has a boyfriend at college and is horrified. The younger son, Vinay (Adeel Ahmed), is trying his best to be American. He hopes to go to college on a basketball scholarship. He enjoys rap music, and calls his father "Dee." Dhiraj does not like his son's "crunk" music, which he confuses with "crank," a.k.a. crystal meth, a drug that can be engineered from cold medications sold in the convenience store.
Uncle Chetan (James Rana) is the owner of the whole chain of stores. Dhiraj and family constantly try to impress Chetan in the hope that Dhiraj can become a franchise owner. Chetan is the first to explain new laws that limit the sales of cold medications at one to a customer. However, Dhiraj has become friendly with Marge (Kylie Delre), a local waitress who buys lots of medicine and aluminum foil and matches. Dhiraj clearly gets something from Marge that he does not get from his wife: the hint of romance. Vinay spends a few nights working at the store with Dhiraj, witnessing a problem with an angry racist (Daniel Robert O'Sullivan) and another visit from Marge. Just as everyone has their dreams in sight, tragedy strikes. For that, you should go see the play.
This is a play about generation gaps, and culture shock, and wanting so much you will never be satisfied. Certainly, Dhiraj works very hard because he is tired of being treated as a low-class immigrant by ignorant Southerners. But there is always a reason for wanting what you don't have. Dhiraj is so bent on providing for his family that he can't bear to be around them. Only the children are able to think of their own happiness.
This is, in short, a very universal story. Congratulations to Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, in their 35th season, for producing another story about the people in our neighborhood. Director Raul Aranas succeeds in making this a very funny story, which, full of Gujarati witticisms, got laughs from an opening night audience of many nationalities. Kaori Akazawa's set design is delightfully spare; it suggests that the glowing store product displays and wispy Christmas tree are but illusions. Carol A. Pelletier's costumes emphasize the rift that has grown between Dhiraj (always in uniform), his wife (very Indian), and his children (as American as possible).