CAR BOMBS YIELD to comedy in this stage-bound treatment of conservative Islam confronting the modern world, circa 1971, in working-class Manchester. There, the children of his interfaith marriage are giving fits to Pakistani family patriarch George Khan (the wonderful Om Puri of My Son the Fanatic). His English wife Ella (Linda Basset) does her best to mediate, but the kids are resisting arranged marriages and traditional roles, absorbing the influences of bell-bottomed, shagadelic swinging England.
EAST IS EAST
directed by Damian O'Donnell
starring Om Puri
opens April 21 at Broadway Market
It's hard to learn any of the five older boys' names, because they're just types: Eldest, Middle, Lover, Artist, and Devout. There's also a soccer-loving daughter (who does a lovely lip-synching dance with a broom) and a cute younger brother, whose hooded parka recalls South Park's Kenny, so it's best to forget about nomenclature and simply enjoy the siblings' high jinks. Yet as George discovers he can't control his brood, his frustration—initially comic—finally turns to anger. "I know what is best for you all," he pleads in vain. George is a hypocrite, we learn, with a traditional first wife back in Pakistan.
East Is East is adapted from screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din's 1996 hit play, and George's disappointment with his clan builds like a third-act storm that you know will rain on the preceding good spirits. The kids enjoy the thrill of assimilation—disco, dating, fashion, pork—that represents an unbridgeable cultural and religious gap for their tormented father. It's possible to enjoy the well-rendered period details to a point, but then the creaky stage mechanics demand a confrontation that leads, strangely, to nothing, denying the whole point of the buildup. The kids' joyous misbehavior is at odds with their parents' growing impasse, while Puri's finely nuanced performance is somewhat wasted in an ill-defined, inconsistent character. You laugh along with the show, but know that its contrivances worked better in the theater.