In small town Wisconsin, a Punjabi family prepares to celebrate the wedding of their only son, Iggy (Sathya Sridharan). But their only daughter, Boz (Shazi Raja), has other plans – namely opening a bar in Madison, Wisconsin. In turns out, beer has a very long history in the Batra family. Family legend has it that a Punjabi pirate, Brown Beard, sailed from India to England carrying a precious cargo of beer.

A Manhattan Theater Club production of Jacklyn Backhaus‘s play India Pale Ale, which opened Tuesday night at City Center Stage I, cleverly intertwines the story of Batra family with lessons in cultural understanding for an immigrant family in America. Brown Beard’s journey across the sea is metaphor for their journey into the heartland. When Boz does open her bar, one of her few customers, Tim (Nate Miller), accosts her with questions about her heritage. “Oh, you don’t know the thousands of times I’ve been asked that question,” Boz moans.


The light tone turns dark quickly when Boz’s ex, Vishal (Nik Sadhnanni), arrives with news that her father has been killed by a gunman at their Sikh temple, an incident which is based on a real event. Boz returns home to comfort her mother, but the shooting has wrought other damage including the breakup of Iggy’s engagement. On the day of the re-opening of the temple, the family reunites for a luggar, a communal meal. Tim appears and is invited to join the luggar, which develops into a small moment of cross-cultural understanding. Backhaus, who also penned the acclaimed off-Broadway play, Men In Boats, interweaves traditional Indian dance and even a food offering that nicely breaks the wall between actors and audience. While it doesn’t offer traditional story arcs and character development, India Pale Ale more than makes up for it with strong emotions and deep feeling.

India Pale Ale is now playing at New York City Center Stage I. Get tickets here.