Reluctantly, Naveen Gavaskar’s parents have reconciled themselves to their son’s sexuality, watching “Milk” for research purposes as they wait to meet his Hindu, Marathi-speaking boyfriend. They are in for a shock when his White boyfriend walks in and introduces himself as Keshav Kurundkar, in a modern riff off the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” “A Nice Indian Boy” at Olney Theatre Center leverages a compactly clever set and small cast to wring drama from the frictions of a 21st century Indian-American family. The trope-filled play fuses staples of both American rom-coms and Bollywood into a playful but predictable comedy.
For those seeking sweet and dramatic entertainment, “A Nice Indian Boy” hits just the spot.
Of course, our couple has their start in a meet-cute, when Naveen (Carol Mazhuvancheril) checks out Keshav (Noah Israel) at the temple when he prostrates himself in front of the altar. For their first date, they catch a nostalgic screening of the mega-hit, “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ),” and debate the romances merits over drinks in the Castro. Keshav is White, but was adopted by his Indian foster parents. After they died, he decided to legally change his name and traveled extensively in India, deepening his connection to the culture. He even has a tattoo of Ganesha at the nape of his neck. Unfortunately, Keshav’s introduction to Naveen’s family falls apart as Keshav embarrasses the family by insisting upon excessively traditional rituals and then scandalizes them by smoking a joint to calm his nerves.
But the drama doesn’t end there. Naveen’s older sister, Arundhathi (Jessica Jain), unexpectedly in town absent her husband, is an agent of chaos, both sowing discord and offering counsel. She advises Naveen how lucky he is to be gay, explaining “you’ve already disappointed our parents so much that there is nothing worse you could do.” In line with Bollywood norms, both Arundhathi and the script more generally romanticize love marriages and warn against arranged ones. However, marrying someone after less than a year of dating meets minimal skepticism. Also typical for Bollywood, “A Nice Indian Boy” fits in an unexpected and exuberant dance number. Luckily unlike Bollywood, this play sticks to a swift 100 minutes.
While audience members enter the theatre and found their seats, Archit Gavaskar (Abhimanyu Katyal), Naveen’s father, is already on stage, cooking an aromatic dish in the family kitchen at the heart of the stage. Tinny music plays from his phone as he stirs the steaming pan. At the start of the show, his phone switches to playing the pre-show announcements before the music transitions to the stage’s speakers. Because the stove and sink are functional, it’s a shock when the fridge opens to reveal Naveen, stepping out from a shrine and beginning to pray. That’s not the only surprise Frank J. Oliva’s scenic design has hidden in the nondescript midcentury Gavaskar home.
The set transforms to a temple, the Castro, and a field of flowers with help from Kenny Neal’s sound design, which provides a ringing bell, the patter of rain, and musical accompaniment for the dance number. The mashup of Indian and American hits pump up to a club-like tempo and volume to sustain the choreography of associate director Ambika Raina. The whole cast joins in for a synchronized mix of high-energy, fast-paced American and Indian moves, punctuated by confetti cannon.
“A Nice Indian Boy” meets all genre expectations for a romantic comedy with a novel spin on the typical premise to keep things interesting. Although Keshav interracial adoption is used mostly as a plot device, Madhuri Shekar’s reflections on the modern experiences of Indian American families are alternately earnest and comedic. In the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, music and scents easily fill the air, just as the five person cast fills the small stage. For those seeking sweet and dramatic entertainment, “A Nice Indian Boy” hits just the spot.
Runtime: 1 hours and 40 minutes without intermission.
Advisory: Age 12+.
“A Nice Indian Boy” EXTENDED through April 16, 2023 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets can be purchased online.