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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - February 27, 2023

Nilanjana Bose and Gulshan Mia
Photo by Ahron R. Foster
Elyria, a new play by Deepa Purohit opening tonight at the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater, is a sweeping and ambitious work, packed with enough ideas to fuel at least three dramas. It's a lot to take in, a long journey that flounders when it fails to find a balance among its various storylines.

Staged in the round, Elyria opens on what appears to be a festival. Folk dancers in traditional costumes perform to music from India that is already playing as we enter the theater. And when the dialog begins, it comes at us in a mélange of languages: some Gujarati, some Swahili, and some British-tinged English. So it might come as a bit of a surprise to find we are not in India or Africa or England, but in the small town of Elyria, Ohio.

That is the setting for a story about family secrets and a not-altogether welcome reunion between two Indian women of different castes, former friends who went their separate ways twenty years earlier when they were both living in Kenya. A secret arrangement between them feeds the bulk of the play and is slowly brought to light during the course of the evening. When we meet Vasanta (Nilanjana Bose) and Dhatta (Gulshan Mia), the deep social constraints imposed by the caste system have dissipated, so that, in American terms, Vasanta would be considered "blue collar" and Dhatta would be "white collar."

As the plot unfolds, their personal story also carries over to include the women's husbands. Vasanta is married to Shiv (Sanjit De Silva), a hustler with big dreams of opening up a travel agency, while Dhatta is married to Charu (Bhavesh Patel), a successful surgeon. Adding to the mix are Dhatta and Charu's cherished college-aged son Rohan (Mohit Gautam) and Rohan's close friend Hassanali (Omar Shafiuzzaman), who have secrets of their own.

In terms of its plotting, you would not be wrong to think of Elyria basically as a soap opera as well as a missed opportunity to bring out so much more that could be said about immigration and the Indian diaspora. While the play takes place in Ohio in 1982, there is nothing here to make us think that either the locale or the time period has any particular significance; these just seem to be a place and a time of convenience. As to the almost tossed-off third element, the relationship between Rohan and Hassanali could feed an entire play itself, especially when we are told the former is Hindu and the latter is Muslim. Why even tell us that if it is not leading us anywhere?

Certainly the performances by Nilanjana Bose and Gulshan Mia as the two central characters are solid and engaging, but neither the plot, nor Awoye Timpo's direction, nor the sometimes confusing design elements are able to pull the disparate pieces into a fully realized production. Elyria feels like a work in progress, its potential as yet unmet.

Through March 19, 2023
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 W 20th St, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: