India Pale Ale brings a powerful message of multiculturalism and love of community in these divisive times in society. In the simplest form, playwright Jacklyn Backhaus shows the audience that differences shouldn’t be equated with fear, and our similarities are more common than we think, a message America so desperately needs to hear today.
The writer of German and Punjabi descent used inspiration from her own mother’s life as a first generation Punjabi-American for the play. The backdrop of Backhaus’ story is a typical second-generation Punjabi family, who loves their Fiona Apple and beer as much as they love rocking out to the dhol and serving langar at the local Gurdwara.
India Pale Ale follows Basminder “Boz” Batra, a second-generation Punjabi American. She’s almost 30 and has plans of moving to the nearby city of Madison to open her own bar. She breaks up with the boy everyone thought she would marry and is mustering up the courage to tell her parents about leaving home to follow her dreams. In between this all, her younger brother Iggy is getting married, and Boz’s ex just happens to be Iggy’s best friend.
Act I of the play was filled with laughs, nosy gossiping moms, a bromance, some awkward ex-encounters and some confusing moments of strange pirate-like dialogues. Sunny Batra, Boz and Iggy’s father, later reveals that his family descends from Brown Beard, the pirate who would work the British ships bringing India Pale Ale from India to England. This unique piece of her family history shapes how Boz perceives and processes her world.
The second half of the play clears up all the ambiguity left in Act I as the story unfolds and tragedy suddenly hits the community. While some find the strength to hold it together enough to provide support, others see a change in who they are, and some are in too much pain to move forward. How each character processes this loss and learns to cope will hit you at your core with its realism.
Backhaus also asks that age-old painfully annoying question “but where are you really from?” A little teachable moment is included for the audience portraying how frustrating it is to have to provide a history lesson every time this question is posed to anyone that looks different.
Beautifully executed, there is no end to the praise the cast and crew of India Pale Ale deserves. Alok Tewari and Purva Bedi are loving as Mr. and Mrs. Batra. Sathya Sridharan and Nik Sadhnani, who play Iggy and Vishal respectively, will have you laughing out loud with their dopey bromance. They are literally every Punjabi boy ever at your neighborhood hookah lounge. Sophia Mahmud is sweet yet powerful as the family matriarch with her one-liners. Last but not the least, Shazi Raja is phenomenal as Boz. She is awkward, loveable and captivating all at once.
India Pale Ale emphasizes universal experiences like having the courage to take risks, following your dreams, honoring your parents, and being strong in the face of adversity which anyone can relate to. Beautifully tied together with the ideals of the Sikh tradition of Langar, India Pale Ale is a must-see play for all.