Mira Nair’s musical theater adaption of her much-loved film, Monsoon Wedding, is a headlong dash to the siren call of fun -- and then strangely, and rather beautifully, a rueful reflection on its costs.
That such delightful froth should achieve a striking level of philosophical depth is kind of amazing, especially as it does so by haphazardly dashing its way through the lives of a party’s worth of characters. This is a wedding tale that understands that marriage is not just the union of two people, but also a clash of civilizations, a covert war that scars with equal parts care, beauty, and betrayal.
To begin with, the battlefield is complex, full of double agents and counter-insurgencies. Lalit and Pimmi Verma have negotiated a favorable marriage for their daughter Aditi: Hemant Rai, the son of an American-Indian family of some distinction, who is successful, handsome, and taken with the idea of an arranged marriage. He sees it as a kind of go-for-broke embrace of tradition. Little does Hermant know that Aditi, the angelic centerpiece of his infatuation with the old ways, is engaged in a torrid affair with her married boss, a sleazy television anchor with some rather impractical ideas of transcontinental cheating.
Add the visiting Rai family, the Vermas' younger daughter and son, their niece, Ria, whom they’ve raised as one of their own, a slew of relatives both nasty and kind, and a wedding planner, Dubey, who eventually falls in love with Alice, the family housekeeper, and you’ve got yourself quite a happening. One might say that Lalit is not only the father of the bride, but also the father of chaos as well. He's a minor-league Prospero trying to work a little magic to secure his daughter’s happiness.
The first scene in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's world-premiere production lays out all the characters in a rather perfunctory way. But after that, Nair and Sabrina Dhawan, adapting the musical’s book from her original screenplay, give us scene after scene in which the Verma family’s sense of fun masks the out-and-out conflict. And their commitment to fun is absolute and transformative.