Dishwasher Dreams, the one-man show by Southeast Asian comedian/actor Alaudin Ullah, is a poignant and appealing presentation about the immigrant experience. The often amusing production is like an HBO or Netflix comedy special, but instead of short, humorous one-liners or monologues strung together for 90 minutes, Dishwasher Dreams is a more cohesive piece. At its core, the play is about family and personal identity.
Alaudin’s narration begins as he is about to have his big break in Hollywood, but quickly pivots to the story of his father’s arrival to America in the late 1940’s as a Bengali Muslim. He chronicles the trials and tribulations of his father who worked, primarily, as a restaurant dishwasher to support himself and, later, his family. The stories focus on the hardships of surviving in his adopted homeland, a return trip to Bangladesh to find a bride, and even his friendship with fellow worker Sid, who would later be better known as the actor Sidney Poitier.
The actor shifts gears, again, to talk about his life. He grew up in the rough and tumble section of New York City’s Spanish Harlem, where he embraced American culture. The reminiscences of his beloved New York Yankees and their star player Reggie Jackson and his antics with his Bangladeshi cousin are funny and touching.
The comedian eventually takes the career path of standup comic, after viewing George Carlin in one of his first HBO comedy specials. The road is rocky, but he eventually succeeds in his chosen profession, coming full circle as he fulfills his American dream and, in extension, those of his father.
As a playwright, Alaudin has crafted a well-structured theatrical experience with very humorous personal reflections and stories. There are some lulls and the set-ups and deliveries do not always provide the desired results. However, there is enough entertaining material to elevate the show beyond a standard comedy showcase.
As a performer, Alaudin is not the most polished of actors which, in this setting, does not deter from the enjoyment of the show. He has an everyman appearance and delivery that is endearing and authentic. With many years spent honing his skills on the comedy club circuit, Alaudin is poised, confident and engaging.
Musician Avirodh Sharma, sitting silently in the back corner of the stage, plays a continuous, rhythmic beat on the traditional tabla (a bongo-like instrument), that underscores the show’s lineage. His masterful artistry enhances the production without overpowering the spoken word.
The problem with directing a one-person show is how to keep the audience engrossed with the performance on stage. While Chay Yew keeps the production fluid, there is a lot of movement by the actor. He is continually positioned around the slightly raised stage, dotting in and out of Lighting Designer Anshuman Bhatia’s lit squares. Throw in the occasional monologue atop a wooden chair and the overall effect diminishes what should be a hearty audience connection.
The bare-bones Scenic Design by Yu Shibagaki, primarily the wall of bamboo behind the raised, wood slatted stage, is a simple reminder of Alaudin’s Southeast Asian heritage.
Dishwasher Dreams, playing at Hartford Stage through March 20. 2022. Click here for more information and tickets.