Wednesday, February 3, 2016

WASHER/DRYER by Nandita Shenoy at Theater Row

Jamyl Dobson and Nandita Shenoy in WASHER/DRYER.  Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.jpg.
If Ted Cruz truly wants to understand what “New York values” are about, he might well attend a performance of Ma-Yi Theater Company’s delightful production of Washer/Dryer by Nandita Shenoy at the Beckett Theater at Theater Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan.  While that experience might lead him to the initial (erroneous) impression that what New Yorkers (or at least Manhattan-based co-op owners) prize above all else are their high status washer/dryer appliances, he’d quickly be disabused of that notion as he came to realize that “New York values” aren’t solely about money, the media, abortion and same sex marriage after all.

To be sure, New York is a progressive and polyglot city where a woman of Southeast Asian descent and a man of Chinese descent can not only get along but may even fall in love and marry; where an aspiring young Indian-American actress can be best friends with a flamboyantly gay black man; and where a white female power-hungry control freak may learn a lot about accepting her own son’s alternative sexual orientation from a seemingly traditional, smothering and doting Chinese mother

But so much for New York’s progressivism.  New Yorkers’ values also include a recognition of the fact that children can create families of their own without abandoning their parents or the families and traditions within which they were raised.  And New Yorkers’ values also include the realization that the generation gap can in fact be bridged with enough goodwill (and effort) on all sides.  And those values aren’t necessarily that different from those of the rest of the country.  In fact, they’re pretty universal.

Michael (Johnny Wu) is a 30-ish Chinese-American free-lance copywriter, living in Brooklyn with three roommates – which is about as far as he’s managed to get in untying himself from his mother’s apron strings.  Sonya (Nandita Shinoy), is a mildly neurotic, aspiring actress of Indian descent whose success to date has been limited to one major nationwide commercial and minor roles in a number of downtown off-off-Broadway theatrical productions.  With the money she earned from the commercial and a sub-prime mortgage loan, she has managed to acquire a small studio apartment (with a washer/dryer!) in an Upper East Side co-operative building and that’s where she’s currently living.

When Michael and Sonya travel to Las Vegas on a Vegas Groupon, they’re carried away by the moment (influenced, perhaps, by their stay in the Honeymoon Suite at the Monte Carlo) and marry impulsively at The Little White Chapel.  All well and good for they are very much in love but, as we all know, the course of true love never doth run smooth (at least not in the theatre).  And so, when they return to New York, they are forced to face reality and decide where to live.  

Obviously they can’t live in Michael’s apartment (what with the three roommates and all) and their present financial circumstances would seem to preclude their renting or purchasing a new apartment for the two of them.  So the only immediately viable solution is for Michael to move into Sonya’s studio apartment with her, small as it may be.  But what Sonya has neglected to tell Michael is that the rules of her co-op prohibit occupancy of her apartment by more than one person.  Which means that Sonya, unbeknownst to Michael, attempts to pass Michael off as nothing more than a temporary guest in her home, rather than as her husband.

That, of course, makes for all sorts of complications.  Wendee (Annie McNamara), the President of the Co-op Board is a stickler for the rules (most of which are of her own making) and she is generally distressed by Sonya’s flouting of those rules (including her failure to carpet 80% of her apartment, her lack of window guards, and her cavalier attitude toward leaving packages in the lobby).  Michael’s presence in Sonya’s apartment raises all sorts of suspicions in her mind - suspicions which are only amplified when she encounters Michael’s mother, Dr. Lee (Jade Wu), cooking dinner in the apartment.

Meanwhile Dr. Lee is most disapproving over Michaels’s marriage to Sonya, not because Sonya is of Indian rather than Chinese descent, but simply because Dr. Lee would disapprove of any woman whom her youngest son might have chosen to marry.  No girl, after all, could possibly be good enough for him.  But of course it all gets sorted out in the end, with a bit of sage assistance from Sam (Jamyl Dobson), Sonya’s flamboyantly gay, black best friend.

Washer/Dryer is great fun and would make a wonderful pilot for a successful television sitcom series in the manner of Friends or Cheers.  In writing her play, Nandita Shenoy has created several appealing characters and her own portrayal of the lead character, Sonya, is absolutely delightful.  Johnny Wu does a fine job as Michael in expressing just how torn he is between his mother and his new wife.  Both Annie McNamara as Wendee and Jade Wu as Dr. Lee succeed in conveying how true it is that maternal love will conquer all (so much for any disparagement of “New York values”!).  And as for Jamyl Dobson as Sam, well what is there to say?  He is truly larger than life, dominates any scene he is in, and yet succeeds in conveying a sense of centeredness that actually transcends that of all the other characters.

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