Monthly Archive for: ‘March, 2017’
Alone in a crowd
Many travelers have suffered that harrowing moment, often at an airport, when they can’t find a vital travel document. Frenzied eyes cast about quickly. Hands desperately grasp at every clothing and luggage pocket. Almost invariably, the fright is followed by brief but intense physical and emotional relief. In the case of playwright/director Vikas Dhurka, the tension remained heightened for 48 hours at Frankfurt International Airport. His is an autobiographical story that he tells in the world premiere play “Airport Insecurity.”
The character of the playwright is named Vijay Kumar, and he is played with flair and to great effect by the hyperkinetic Varun Dua. Vijay heads a Silicon Valley team that is connecting at Frankfurt en route to Barcelona for a trade show. For greater comfort while napping at the Lufthansa lounge, he removes his phone, wallet, and passport from his pants and sets them on a table. When he awakens, they are gone – presumably stolen by “Russian guys” who were sitting in the next row. Without a passport, he is unable to board a flight, and sending his team onward, so begins his saga.
Though he has worked in the U.S. for 10 years, Vijay is an Indian passport holder, and since his U.S. working papers had expired, he is on a temporary permit. A photocopy of that permit is the only identification he possesses. Fortunately, he has a laptop, which becomes his link to the outside world.
In the process of trying to extricate himself, Vijay contacts Indian consulates from Munich to San Francisco, as well as family and friends in California and India. The headwinds he encounters with the Indian government, German police, and international airlines are somewhat predictable, but a number of the vignettes are quite humorous. The wrinkle is a secondary plot concerning his pregnant wife’s impending delivery and an intrauteral complication. His wife, Priya, is played with grace and charm by Devika Ashok, who has a particularly touching scene when telling Vijay of her pregnancy problem.
Tom Hanks holds the contemporary double gold standard for stories about stranded travelers – marooned in “Cast Away” and virtually imprisoned in “The Terminal.” Appropriate references to Hanks are made in the play. While “Airport Insecurity” doesn’t achieve the same level of intensity as those two movies (the real life subject of “The Terminal” spent 18 years in Charles de Gaule airport!), it is told with great competence and it entertains.
Much of the play’s humor is universal. But some is particularly satisfying to South Asians, and there are a couple of instances in which Hindi is spoken that the humor is lost on non Hindi speakers. Otherwise, the script is well written, though it could be edited down a bit. It does provide an interesting sequence of events at the terminal, alternating with fish-eye views of those who Vijay communicates with in the outside world.
Many of the situations are so common that they may be thought of as trite, but they are nonetheless funny. When Vijay tries to get some sleep on the floor of the terminal, his contortions in order to grasp all of his possessions and create some sort of pillow at the same time will be a familiar experience for many. In a clever and humorous nod to “L A Story,” Vijay has a fantasy in which the screen behind the gate counter flashes signs to him and reveals a clue on how to extricate himself from the airport.
The cast is large, and although acting by the 22 supporting players is uneven, some are quite good and the others are serviceable. The staging works well, as one central set serves credibly both as the terminal and the lounge, and there are rudimentary extensions at the wings that serve as the sites for Vijay’s various communicants.
The producer of the play, Naatak, is the largest Indian theater company in the United States. Although it is largely unknown in the greater Bay Area theater world, it exemplifies the notion of community theater. It benefits from an abundance of volunteer participants, and its patronage is overwhelmingly South Asian. Naatak produces two or three plays with several performances each per year and often fills its 320 seat venue, so by butts-in-seats measure, it is a mid-sized company that understands and satisfies its audience.
“Airport Insecurity” by Vikas Dhurka is produced by Naatak and plays at Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, through March 4, 2017.