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Paulanne Simmons

Coming of Age in the 21st Century

Arjun Gupta and Nick Choksi in "Huck and Holden"

"Huck & Holden"
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St. at Seventh Ave. South
Opened Jan. 19, 2006
Tues.-Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 3 & 7 p.m.
$25 (212) 989-2020
Closes Feb. 11, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 24, 2006

The title of Rajiv Joseph's new play, now in its world premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is "Huck & Holden," but it might have been "Huck, Holden & Navin." Indeed, if "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is the Great American Buildingsroman of the 19th century and "The Catcher in the Rye" is the classic coming-of-age story of the 20th century, then Navin's adventures in America might well represent a typical journey of self-discovery for the 21st century.

Navin (the endearing Nick Choksi) is an Indian student attending an unspecified American university. He is a dutiful son and a serious scholar who plans on completing his studies and marrying a woman of his parents' choice.

Nick Choksi and Cherise Boothe.

When Navin receives an assignment asking him to compare Hick Finn and Holden Caulfield, he goes to the library to obtain the necessary literature. There he meets Michelle (the sassy you-go-girl Cherise Boothe), an African-American student obsessed with the "Karma Sutra."

Nilaja Sun

With the help of an imaginary mentor, a former schoolmate named Singh (Arjun Gupta) a Sikh whom he had admired for his audacity and cool, Navin pursues Michelle despite his hesitation, guilt and trepidation. Along the way he discovers and incorporates many new ideas about women, sexuality and personal freedom.

Navin's burgeoning romance with Michelle puts him in conflict with her former boyfriend, Torry (LeRoy McClain), who gives the young Indian a few lessons on sex in 21st century America. It also attracts the attention of the four-armed Indian goddess (Rebecca Bernstein's costume design is terrific), Kali, played by Nilaja Sun, who gives the goddess loads of black American attitude).

Huck & Holden, part of the Cherry Lane's Discovery Series, which gives new plays a premiere of-Broadway, is directed by Giovanna Sardelli, an artistic associate with The Lark Play Development Center where Joseph is a fellow. The enthusiasm and sensitivity with which she examines Navin's issues – cultural diversity, sexuality, mores and morality – is truly commendable. She has a finely tuned ability to balance action and thought, comedy and conflict that keeps this production careening near the edge but never falling off the cliff.

In the last third of Huck & Holden, the play seems to get lost in its own energy. Perhaps the temptation to play to the audience was too great for the author and director to resist. But the final scene brings Navin and the play safely back home. In the end Huck & Holden is thoroughly satisfying. It's also lots of fun.

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