The Washington Post

Olney’s ‘A Nice Indian Boy’ is a meet-the-parents comedy that’s too familiar


In a telling moment in “A Nice Indian Boy,” the funny but creaky and rarely surprising comedy at Olney Theatre Center, a longmarrie­d Indian American woman is asked about her love for her husband. Does her heart beat faster when she thinks of him?

The woman, Megha Gavaskar, is flummoxed by the question. “What? No!” she retorts. Lynette Rathnam — this production’s ace card as Megha — endows her character’s brusque response with hilarious wariness. Then Megha elaborates: When her thoughts turn to her spouse, her heart “sometimes … grows bigger,” she says.

Intoxicati­ng romance. Less precipitou­s affection that steadily builds. Madhuri Shekar’s 2014 play weighs and counterpos­es those two ideas of love while spooning out a tale of family, tradition, generation­al culture clash and food.

Representi­ng heart-palpitatin­g romance is the main storyline: the passion of Megha’s son Naveen (Carol Mazhuvanch­eril) for his boyfriend, Keshav (Noah Israel), a fellow Hindu who happens to be Caucasian. In contrast to their son’s enchantmen­t, the love between Megha and her husband, Archit (Abhimanyu Katyal), has grown since their traditiona­l Indian, seemingly arranged marriage.

When Naveen brings Keshav to meet his family at their Bay Area home without having sufficient­ly prepared them, complicati­ons ensue in a manner that echoes many rom-coms, with a touch of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Director Zi Alikhan keeps the proceeding­s lively, not least with a smashing dance sequence choreograp­hed by Ambika Raina, also the show’s associate director. And Frank Oliva’s set, centered on a naturalist­ic kitchen, is laden with ingenious reveals as joyous as the dancing.

Archit, a talented cook, often busies himself in that kitchen, listening broodingly to nearby conversati­ons. In the role, Katyal radiates slow-waters-run-deep intensity. But it’s Rathnam who really buoys the tale, displaying impeccable comic timing while revealing Megha’s determinat­ion and common sense. When Megha does a double take on hearing Keshav speak Hindi, the elated look in her eyes is priceless.

Mazhuvanch­eril gives Naveen a sweet nerdiness, and Israel shows the vulnerabil­ity in Keshav, who has embraced the culture of his Indian adoptive parents. The character of Naveen’s sister Arundhathi, as written, is more thematic device than personalit­y — her marriage somewhat resembles her parents’ — and actress Jessica Jain hasn’t transcende­d that limitation.

The widely produced Shekar, described in her bio as an Indian playwright and screenwrit­er from California, has invested “Nice Indian Boy” with bracing specificit­y — talk of recipes, Hindu beliefs, the Bollywood blockbuste­r “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and more — and a moving appreciati­on for identity and heritage. But on the plot level, the play is less successful.

Unlike in Shekar’s “In Love and Warcraft,” a romantic comedy produced locally by No Rules Theatre Company in 2015, the narrative twists and rhythms in “Nice Indian Boy” feel shopworn and predictabl­e. Rom-coms and sunny meet-the-parents yarns may objectivel­y be predictabl­e, of course, but they shouldn’t unremittin­gly feel that way.

A Nice Indian Boy by Madhuri Shekar. Directed by Zi alikhan; costume design, Danielle preston; lighting, emma Deane; sound, Kenny neal. about 100 minutes. Tickets: $54-$79. Through april 9 at olney Theatre Center, 2001 olney-sandy Spring Rd., olney. 301-924-3400. olneytheat­

 ?? Ryan Maxwell ?? Noah Israel, left, and Carol Mazhuvanch­eril in “A Nice Indian Boy” at Olney Theatre Center.
Ryan Maxwell Noah Israel, left, and Carol Mazhuvanch­eril in “A Nice Indian Boy” at Olney Theatre Center.

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