A passage from India
Arranged Marriage is lovely. It’s also joyful, funny, exquisite, sad and thought- provoking.
This world-premiere play debuting at Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) looks at the arranged marriage of a young woman from India and at her eventual immigration to the United States. The resulting production is a showcase for two remarkable talents.
The first is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of the short-story anthology Arranged Marriage. In the book, she explores some of the customs, cultures and beliefs of her native India as well as the immigration experience of those coming to this country. It was Divakaruni’s first book, and this play, her first theatrical outing, is taken from one of the anthology’s stories.
Helping to adapt the story for the stage is the other memorable participant, Shahnaz Shroff, an actress and director from India who just completed her master’s degree in acting from the University of California, Davis. Not only did this young talent help write the play, along with her UC Davis professor and STC Artistic Director Peggy Shannon, but she’s also the lead actress and delivers a heartfelt, moving performance as young Sumita.
The play is performed in STC’s smaller Stage Two facility, a wise decision for an intimate piece presented by two main actresses and a four-person dance group. Besides Shroff’s performance, the other primary actress is Saffron Henke, who plays a number of supportive roles that are also audience favorites, such as Parvati, the love goddess, and Sumita’s yenta-like mother.
The play begins with Parvati introducing the Indian custom of arranged marriages and explaining how destiny, gods, astrology and family all work together to bring two souls together.
The play’s first half, which takes place in India, is the most successful, with shades of the film Monsoon Wedding. Indian ceremonies and customs are presented, including family negotiations, the bride viewing and the wedding, as well as costumes, myths, music and dance.
The play is primarily presented as the inner thoughts of Sumita, so you see the world through her eyes. The second half begins with Sumita heading toward her new life in California, where her husband runs a “magical market” called 7-Eleven.
We get to feel Sumita’s wide-eyed experiences as a new immigrant and see our culture from another perspective. Unfortunately tragedy abruptly stops the flow of the story, and though it stays true to the book, the story shift is less successful as a theatrical device. However, the production is filled with so many magical moments, this slight is forgivable.