ELYRIA Maps Out a Maternal Melodrama — Review
As with most melodramas, Elyria’s main story is rarely the thing with which it’s actually interested. That dramatic story format, beloved for wearing its bleeding heart proudly on its sleeve, is cathartic in its sentimentality, satisfying in its simplicity. But though this new play by Deepa Purohit, receiving its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company, has all the highs and lows of a classic maternal melodrama—stifling suburbs, wayward kids, long-hidden pasts and a sacrificial mother—it obscures its core, not through soapy surfaces, but with a jumbled reliance on choreography and an accidental upstaging by two supporting performances.
But it’s still great fun. Its story twists and turns around Vasanta (Nilanjana Bose), an Indian woman from Mombasa who's recently moved to the titular Ohio city in 1982. She’s staying at her sister’s house for a spell while the money signs on her husband Shiv’s (Sanjit De Silva) eyes try to materialize into a successful business. A chance encounter at a community center reunites her with Dhatta (Gulshan Mia), an estranged friend from back home, whose husband Charu (Bhavesh Patel) is none too pleased to learn about her relocation.
So far, so juicy, and the cast is more than game. But despite director Awoye Timpo’s impassioned work on the book scenes, Purohit’s script calls for a movement-heavy chorus to accompany the action and, at least as choreographed by Parijat Desai, this decision feels like more of a contrivance than a complement. In flashbacks that bleeds through the present—and around the audience in Jason Ardizzone-West’s sunken seating, in-the-round staging—younger versions of the two women (Mahima Saigal and Avanthika Srinivasan) and a young man (Sanskar Agarwal) rather needlessly sublimate the play’s already over-pronounced emotions into an even larger frenzy.
Besides, the real heart of the matter is the tender, glimmering bromance that develops between Dhatta’s son, Rohan (Mohit Gautam), and fellow college student Hassanali (Omar Shafiuzzaman). In Sarita Fellows’ appealing, 80’s-out tracksuits and block-colored shirts, they tease out a friendship across skating rinks, gardens, and cultural divides. Gautam and Shafiuzzaman all but steal the show, with the complex nature of their relationship taking up larger space in my imagination than any of the more cut-and-dry (yet compelling) adult dramas.
Melodrama is ultimately always about the kids—the future—and, in their relationship, Purohit, Gautam, and Shafiuzzaman find a lovely hope that the sins of the parents, and the aims of the immigrants, will always work themselves out.
Elyria is in performance through March 19, 2023 at the Atlantic Theatre Company on West 20th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.