The first question everyone asks is usually, “What does ABCD stand for?” That’s an easy one to answer: American Born Confused Desi. Your next question is probably, “What is a Desi?” Again, fairly easy to answer: A Desi is a South Asian (which includes India, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries). So where does the confusion come in? Now that’s a far more complex question which every first and even second generation individual has had to deal with. What do you do, think, and believe when your parents are from South Asia (or Central or South America or the Middle East or any other place that is not the U.S.A.)? Clearly, a household quickly becomes divided when at least two cultures come into conflict. Culture, after all, includes traditions, values, beliefs, world views, and a whole lot more.
Nikita Chaudhry and Suni M! – Photo by Nick Graves
Playwright Lily Abha Cratsley decided to tackle this fundamental question – and her examination of the topic produced ABCD, directed by J. Mehr Kaur and now playing at the Greenway Arts Alliance in Los Angeles in a co-production with resident company Kriyashakti Performing Arts.
To quote Cratsley, “In the fall of 2021, I started writing ABCD because I wanted to love my mother better…I began my creative process by speaking with the woman who raised the woman who raised me…my Nani (grandmother) was born in the year India became independent, (and) she immigrated to the U.S. with her husband in 1970 and built a home for my mother and uncle in New Jersey…(when) both of her children had married, she and Nana (my grandfather) decided to move back to India…and they all lived happily ever after… something deep inside of me always knew, however, that it was a half truth.”
Moderator Will Power, Lily Abha Cratsley, and J. Mehr Kaur at the Talk-Back – Photo by Elaine L. Mura
Inspired by her family’s experiences, Cratsley developed the story of three South Asian women, Willow (Nikita Chaudhry), a conflicted teenager born in the U.S., the younger of two sisters, who is searching for her roots; Aditi (Sonal Shah), Willow’s mother born in India but raised in the U.S. as a youngster; and Nani (Suni M!), Willow’s grandmother on a visit from India, where she currently lives.
Set in the family’s comfortable home in New Jersey where Aditi lives with her two daughters, Tara and Willow, the three women have assembled to attend Tara’s Arangetram (the debut solo performance for students of the Indian classical dance style). When Tara phones at the last minute to opt out of their celebratory dinner, the trio are forced to face their own struggles and skirmishes. For better or worse, it is left to these three generations of women to reach a level of understanding that will allow each to love and respect the others while holding true to her own identity. In this “trial by fire” the women must try to blend three cultures into a workable whole while also dealing with trauma that each has experienced for being “different.”
At the Talk-Back: Suni M! and Sonal Shah – Photo by Elaine L. Mura
Helmed by J. Mehr Kaur with compassion and sensitivity, ABCD digs right into the issues which both separate and inexorably draw these women together. The talented trio of actors often draw from their own experiences, as did author Cratsley, to present a thoughtful and compelling study of cultural conflict. Congratulations are also in order for the production team, including Jane Hamor’s scenic design – so warm and cozy – Jagdeep Raina’s costumes, Nick Diaz’ sound, and Hayden Kirschbaum’s lighting.
In a fascinating talk-back after the show, Cratsley spoke about her writer’s process in formulating the tale with realism and authenticity while offering latitude for each of the women to open up and share her story. Director Kaur spoke of the technical and social issues likely to surface in such a story. Hosted by playwright Will Power, the talk-back offered valuable insights into the production.
At the Talk-Back: Nikita Chaudhry – Photo by Elaine L. Mura
ABCD runs through December 2, 2023, with Saturday performances at 3 p.m. (11/11 and 11/18), and Sunday performances at 7 p.m. (11/12 and 11/19). Performances have been added for Friday (12/1/23) at 7 p.m. and Saturday (12/2/23) at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Greenway Court Theatre is located at 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles. Tickets are $25. For information and reservations, go online.