“American Rookie” offers a look at assimilation into American society

Girl looking over the seat inside a car
"American Rookie" offers a look at assimilation into American society

American Voices series at Luna Stage is interesting and entertaining

Luna Stage in West Orange continues their “American Voices” series with Dipti Bramhandkar’s American Rookie, a one-woman play about her and her family’s assimilation into life in upstate New York after leaving Mumbai. Ms. Bramhandkar delivers a 60-minute monologue that is by turns humorous and sad. She presents lessons about finding ways to fit into a new society and delivers her observations about suppressing one’s own identity to get by while not ever being able to feel acceptance fully.

Under the direction of Padraic Lillis, Ms. Bramhandkar takes us backward and forwards in time. The first story she relates is recent: Her mother, out shopping with a friend, is nearly run over by a car after parking. The car backs up, and the driver, a white man, angrily demands to know where she is from. She replies, “Here”—which is true, since she’s lived “here” for over three decades. He points to his face and screams that she is not because if she were, her skin would look like his, after which he drives away.

What amazed Ms. Bramhandkar was that her mother only mentioned the incident as an off-handed comment during a phone call a couple of days later. This prompted Ms. Bramhandkar to take a look back at what belonging meant to her as an Indian girl living in northeastern America.

During the course of the show, we learn about how to fit in with other girls (the right clothes are everything), her first kiss, the wonder that is snow, making friends, and downplaying any differences that might hinder her progress in becoming an American girl. She also, towards the end, relates a harrowing scene about the shooting of two Indian engineers in a bar, from which one died. The reaction of the widow highlighted the grotesque disparity between how a native could respond and how an immigrant is expected to respond.

American Rookie is the second of three one-person plays in the “American Voices” series at Luna2. It is interesting and entertaining. Dipti Bramhandkar has created a piece that, hopefully, will get its audiences to consider seeing our society, based on immigrants seeking better lives, from a different viewpoint. I encourage you to head toward Luna Stage in West Orange to see American Rookie before its all-too-short engagement ends.

American Rookie is presented by Luna Stage in West Orange through January 27, 2019. For tickets and information, visit LunaStage.org.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.