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May 29, 1999
East Is East Opens To Raves In New York
The poignant, pulse-quickening drama of conflicts in a working class British family, East Is East, took two years to arrive in New York after it opened triumphantly in London. It has arrived a few months before the movie with the same title and story material and starring Om Puri will arrive in America.
East Is East, the first play by an occasional actor Ayub Khan-Din (Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) opened in New York on Wednesday, May 26, to raves. It is a partly autobiographical work. The writer was raised in an English suburb with an English mother and a Pakistani father. Khan-Din says he has ten brothers and sisters. But in the play there are six children. The youngest, who does not remove his parka and seeks to use it as a shield against the world he does not like, is a representative of the writer.
The Daily News called the play 'warm and compassionate.' The story revolves around an authoritarian immigrant father, his English wife and their six children. The simmering tension and anger among the family members explode when the father arranges for two of his older sons to marry the homely daughters of a wealthy Pakistani friend.
The News, apart from applauding the performances, praised the 'stunning' set by Derek McLane for being 'so real and inventive that you will feel like you’re really in the Khan’s grungy living room and family restaurant.'
The New York Times called the play a 'lively production' of Ayub Khan-Din’s awkward but 'affectionate tale of domestic and cultural combat.'
The reviewer praised director Scott Elliot for his 'gritty theatrical magic.'
Newsday praised director Elliott for putting together 'a big boisterous cast of pitch-perfect actors – many in their first Off-Broadway project.'
'The venture has lovingly turned out one of the most rewarding new plays of the season,' the newspaper added.
Writer Khan was at the Cannes film festival when the play opened. But he made time for interviews. He was asked why the father in the play (played brilliantly by first time actor Edward Hajj) has an English name, while his half-English children have Pakistani names?
"The local people in Salford couldn't get their mouths around my father's Pakistani name," the writer says. "My father used to keep chickens so he could kill and cook and curry them. He would run after the chickens, singing an old nursery rhyme that went 'Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck…' and so on. The community thought that was funny and started calling him Charlie, which I changed to George."
There are indeed many funny moments in East Is East but ultimately it is a work about self-discovery and bonding.
East is East is being staged at the Manhattan Theater Club, 55th Street West of Sixth Avenue. Tickets: $50.
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