It’s doubtful that residents of Elyria, Ohio ever thought that they would see their hometown represented on a New York stage, especially those of South Asian descent. After all, according to the last census, the Cleveland suburbs reported an estimated population of 53,000. Only 0.8 percent of whom identified as Asian.
Yet we’ve come to value the importance of representation and playwright Deepa Purohit’s Off Broadway play Elyria is just as unique as the writer’s own life.
Director Awoye Timpo has assembled a fine cast for this story than spans geographies and decades, leading us to 1982. Dhatta (Gulshan Mia) and Vasanta (Nilanjana Bose) have both arrived in Elyria and both share someone in common: Charu (Bhavesh Patel), a prominent doctor at the local hospital. Dhatta is married to Charu, thanks to an arranged marriage years earlier. In younger days, Vasanta and Charu dated and had a child together, Rohan (Mohit Gautam). Charu is unaware of who the biological mother is, although Dhatta and Vasanta know. They all reside in Elyria and secrets are about to unravel.
Purohit explores themes of cultural identity and more specifically, the economic tension between families who share culture similarities but who are in different class brackets. A subplot including a secret romance between Rohan and his classmate, Hassanali (Omar Shafiuzzaman) adds gay drama to the mix, though it is one left unresolved.
The Welsh born scribe drew inspiration from her own family’s journey and from her late father, who was a physician. A 10-act play, written in Sanskrit called “The Little Clay Cart” also propelled her to relay the tale.
There’s much to admire here, including Timpo’s fine cast. Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting and projections are perhaps some of the most inventive designs on any New York stage right now. Set designer Jason Ardizzone-West has completely transformed the Atlantic Theater stage, creating an immersive and welcoming opportunity for audiences to absorb this drama . Parijat Desai lends beautiful choreography which gives the piece an elegiac feel. Children of the eighties-like Purohit—will appreciate the retro songs featured prominently between scenes.
At nearly 2.5 hrs., one feels that the story could easily have been relayed in ninety minutes. Yet it is rare that we see immigrant stories from a South Asian perspective told with such earnestness and honesty. In that sense, it deserves our attention.
Elyria is now playing Off Broadway through March 19 at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th between 8th and 9th Aves. NYC) For tickets and information, click here .