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New York Theater

India Awaiting

Although seen with increasing frequency, plays focusing on the experiences of Southeast Asians remain relatively scarce. For this reason, Anne Marie Cummings' India Awaiting deserves some approbation. Setting aside ideas of theatrical inclusiveness, however, Cummings' drama never fully satisfies.

The play focuses on Nikhil, an India-born Wall Street trader, and Janet, the young photographer with whom he falls in love. After meeting cute, the couple embarks on a whirlwind romance that culminates in his proposal to her -- atop the Empire State Building, no less -- even though he knows he might have to proceed with an arranged marriage in India.

Racial tensions surface almost immediately: A cousin (a jocular Alok Tewari) says, "I don't know what you would see in a white girl" when he hears about the relationship. Her conveniently mixed-race parents, one British (grandly dry Robert Ian Mackenzie) and one Spanish (an over-the-top Patricia Mauceri), bristle at her choice, suggesting that a wine-tasting class is where she might meet a "classy man."

When Nikhil tells his imperiously commanding mother (Naheed Khan) about the engagement, she begins finalizing the plans for Nikhil's marriage in India (plans that Nikhil cruelly hides from Margot White's sweetly engaging Janet). Here India Awaiting loses all dramatic credibility, as Cummings forces her point about the difficulty of assimilation.

Nikhil's monologues reflecting on what happened the day before he was sent to boarding school are more successful. Maulik Pancholy delivers these with bittersweet melancholy that charms and contrasts beautifully with his adopted American qualities. Set designer Narelle Sissons' sliding frames filled with diaphanous fabric are lit by designer Peter West with pinks and oranges in these sections, giving the moments an Eastern, dreamlike feel. Sissons' design also allows director Tyler Marchant's overall staging of this episodic play to move with fluidity to its strangely ambiguous conclusion.

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