Thanks to The Simpsons and a thousand stand-up comics, most Americans assume that Indian immigrants are likable, sexless people who drive cabs or own convenience stores and speak a very precise English in which every sentence is punctuated by the word "sir." Bombay-born, New York-based actor Aasif Mandvi is out to smash those stereotypes. In his one-man show he plays six very different South Asians, not one of whom is a cabdriver, sir. At the center of Sakina's Restaurant is Azgi, a wide-eyed Muslim who comes to America with dreams of wealth and finds himself waiting tables at a Manhattan restaurant. Through his eyes we meet Hakim, the Indian businessman trying to keep his restaurant afloat, Hakim's homesick wife, and their two children, a rebellious adolescent daughter and a conformist son. Mandvi portrays all the characters, male and female, gracefully switching from one to another with a slight shift in posture and the addition of an article of clothing or a small prop. A scarf stands in for a sari, for example, and a small cell phone, stuck to his ear like a large parasite, indicates the workaholic Hakim. Thanks to Mandvi's painstaking performance and his attention to detail, this compelling 90-minute mosaic of the South Asian experience in America never for a moment slips into easy cliches. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300. March 27 and 28: Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 5 PM. $25 for the Saturday show; $30-$40 for the Sunday show (this performance is a benefit for the India Development Service; call 630-527-9536 for tickets).
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.