A flawed, but entertaining look at the life of a rising Indian-American entertainer.
By Joel Benjamin
Hasan Minhaj, famous from his stint on “The Daily Show,” is handsome, with a smile that lights up a room, particularly the intimate Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village where his autobiographical solo show, Homecoming King is playing. It’s an uneven, but pleasurable look at an Indian tyke arriving in the U.S. with his father in the 1980s and the often amusing clashes between his conservative father and the more permissive American culture. His mother, sadly, stayed behind in India to finish her medical school training, but visited at odd intervals. One of these visits came with a shocking surprise.
Minhaj’s vivid observations of his boyhood (like being the only “brown people” in the local stores), the vignettes on the differences between Indian and American ideas of child discipline and the stories of his early school days, were funny and sad at the same time. The adjustments he had to make to survive both his father’s caveats and the social pressures of school are the gist of the first third of Homecoming King.
On the show’s flier, the painting of a school bus with all sorts of chaos happening around a hapless looking young Minhaj was a perfect graphic representation of these years. He did have a close friend in high school named Kevin who helped him get through the requisite bullying. He spoke of invading the “blue benches,” the exclusive enclave of the in kids, at lunchtime with decidedly mixed results.
However, the show is hijacked by Bethany, Minhaj’s AP Calculus study partner who becomes the touchstone of all womanhood to the hormonal high school guy. He mined the epic story of falling for Bethany, being rejected by her and the effect she had on the rest of his life for all it was worth. The material became thinner and thinner with his spin on a unrequited high school romance having only the ethnic angle to make it any different than scores of other such stories. Yes, she treated him badly and, yes, Minhaj got to show her hypocrisy and, yes, he “got even” with her by getting rich and famous. But, aside from his charming way of telling the tale, this is an old, old story.
Gil Sperling’s video designs illustrated Minhaj’s tale with witty graphics, photographs, Facebook tidbits and many tweets. Sara C. Walsh’s simple scenic designs had to share the stage with the set of another show unfortunately.
Greg Walloch, who helped develop the show and also directed Minhaj, might consider some judicious editing and finding a way to speed things up a bit. There are lots of laughs and a few worthy “aw” moments, but Homecoming King is merely charming when it might have been scintillating.
Photos: Andrew Kist
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King (through November 15, 2015)
Cherry Lane Theatre 38 Commerce Street, (Bedford Street and Barrow Street) New York, NY
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit www.OvationTix.com
For more information visit www.homecomingshow.com
Running time: One hour 50 minutes, no intermission