There is a feminist saying that “the personal is political,” and playwright Jennifer Rowland does a skillful job interweaving private lives with public service in The Indians Are Coming To Dinner.
Rowland’s tragicomedy is set during the Reagan era, wherein stage and big and little screen veteran Michael Rothhaar plays Harold Blackburn, an archetypal WASPy upper class Republican. Harold laments having been pushed as a young man by his domineering late father (whose portrait dominates Tom Buderwitz’s set and which lighting designer Leigh Allen highlights throughout the action) to abandon an alluring State Department career to go into the family business. After years of running this reasonably prosperous if dull company, Harold receives intimations that the reelected Ronald Reagan is considering tapping Harold to become Our Man in India. Following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, it’s believed that the Reagan regime requires an extremely talented diplomat to represent Washington at New Delhi.
Harold gets it into his head that he’s just the man for the job, and his youthful dreams of diplomacy and a life abroad in the Foreign Service return and reanimate him. So being a Reaganite, Harold sets out to secure his overseas sinecure by, naturally, politicking, and schemes to make a good impression on his old friend Anil (Kevin Vavasseur), who is visiting the States with his family. Harold believes this distant relation of the Gandhis is extremely influential in India, and a kingmaker vis-à-vis vetting Harold for the post he’s now yearning for.
He coerces dutiful Nora-like wife Lynn (Sara Newman-Martins) and faithful servant Woo (the droll Peter Chen) into concocting cuisine with an Indian flare in order to literally curry favor. Hippy dippy son Christopher (Justin Preston), a high (and I mean high) school student who has been, shall we say, Bogarting that joint, my friends, is imposed upon to attend the repast.
So is daughter Alexandra (the gifted Thea Rubley), who has flown home to San Francisco from her college to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer by trying out at a hard to get into audition, which could lead to going to Italy and the launching of her singing career. Operatic music is a recurring theme in Indians; Harold is a big fan of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, the first opera Harold shared with Alexandra when she was a little
Rowland has written a clever, resonant, sly script. The stuff that dreams are made of!
Julia Fletcher ably directs this world premiere production that deserves life beyond the excellent PRT production. Burderwitz’s split-level set is imaginative as it divides the spatial and emotional spaces of the play up.
Rubley is a real standout; not only is the recent USC grad a fine actress with promise, but she has the lovely singing voice her character requires… As Harold, Rothhaar convincingly portrays a man who is a needy, bundle of contradictions, who with youthful dreams thwarted grasps once more for that elusive brass ring as old age approaches. Rothhaar’s Harold has an air not unlike that other salesman, Arthur Miller’s immortal, yet all too human, Willy Loman. Alas, as Harold seeks to have attention paid to him, Harold Blackburn is the low man on these Indians totem pole.
But he should not despair: If New Delhi eludes him, there will always be a role for Harold as one of Reagan’s mass murderers in his Central American Contra war. Beside, as we see in this comedy drama about foiled fantasies of what one could have been had he/she remained true unto his/her own self, there are more ways to kill sopranos than with bullets.
–Ed Rampell, February 3, 2012