A New Play Tries to Be a Chinese-Indian Barefoot in the Park for the 21st Century

Newlyweds Michael (Ewan Chung) and Sonya (Rachna Khatau) are hiding more than a few secrets in East West Players’ world-premiere comedy “Washer/Dryer.”EXPAND
Newlyweds Michael (Ewan Chung) and Sonya (Rachna Khatau) are hiding more than a few secrets in East West Players’ world-premiere comedy “Washer/Dryer.”
Photo by Michael Lamont

Washer/Dryer, Nandita Shenoy’s world premiere at East West Players, drops young, cross-cultural love into the cutthroat world of a New York City co-op. Reasonably well-acted and seasoned with some light hijinks, the show hovers at sitcom-level contrivances and shallow character development, rarely rising above its exhausted stereotypes.

The story follows newlyweds Michael (Ewan Chung) and Sonya (Rachna Khatau), who after impulsively getting hitched in Vegas have returned to New York to make a go of it. Married life proves a rude awakening, however, when Michael discovers that Sonya’s Lilliputian flat, despite its coveted in-unit laundry facilities, permits only single occupancy, while Michael’s overbearing mother, Dr. Lee (Karen Huie), refuses to meet her Indian daughter-in-law. Complications ensue when the dictatorial co-op board president (Nancy Stone) gets a whiff of illegal occupation and Sonya’s family presses for a traditional Hindi wedding.

The show, directed by Peter J. Kuo, aspires to be a kind of Barefoot in the Park for the 21st century, but the funny bits, such as a frantic, scored scramble to tidy up the apartment from prying eyes and an overly long hiding-in-plain-sight sequence, try too hard and ring hollow. As the gay BFF, Sam (Corey Wright) is shoehorned into a scarf-flouncing, hand-snapping, straight-talking plot device sent to set Sonya’s head straight. Huie plays Michael’s meddlesome, gold-biting, kung fu–fighting mother to the hilt, but it’s a type we’ve seen in half a dozen tasteless Hollywood movies, with little added depth here. The stakes — threat of eviction, dissolution of the marriage — register only as remote possibilities, particularly with Khatau, who demonstrates more passion in defending her washer/dryer than fighting with her husband.

Earlier this year, Tim Dang, the theater’s producing artistic director, made a public and somewhat controversial push to challenge Los Angeles theater companies to employ at least 51 percent actors of color, women or those under 35 by 2019. Though the proposal has been overshadowed by the ground-shifting announcement that Actors' Equity plans to require minimum wages for its members — a move that will drive many smaller theaters out of business in short order anyway — the fundamental goal to represent more diverse faces and experiences onstage is a worthy one.

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But Los Angeles audiences deserve stories and characters as fresh and dynamic as the ever-changing demographics of the city. The emotional heft here is no more substantial than one of Sonya’s wedding saris, bright and flimsy.

East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., dwntwn.; through March 15. (213) 625-7000; eastwestplayers.org.


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