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The musical number that best epitomizes “Kashmir If You Can,” the 163rd production by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT), is “Men On Top:” an intensely un-PC, sexually-charged tune about the merits of male dominance earnestly sung by a trio of women—or rather, in HPT tradition, men in drag. The show, which runs through March 6 in the New College Theatre, spares no targets or social mores with its biting comedy, and the result is one of the most entertaining shows to grace Harvard’s campus this year. As the plot thread becomes steadily more tenuous during the second act, “Kashmir If You Can” is more than ably held together by a talented cast and the inspired comic stylings of the writing staff.
“Kashmir If You Can,” as the tightly-executed opening number “Up In Smoke” informs the audience, is the tale of a motley crew of characters in India who are currently dealing with the fallout from the Maharajah’s (Aseem A. Shukla ’11) murder. Into the power vacuum steps Queen Latikah (Ethan D. Hardy ’14), his former wife, who attempts to seize control along with her lover, literal slumdog millionaire Pooch Yermoneywhereyourmouthis (Matthew J. DaSilva ’12). Meanwhile, a rather strange bunch—including the Queen’s daughter Sari M. Notsari (Benjamin K. Moss ’13), governess Cherry Poppins (Brandon J. Ortiz ’12) and a memory-challenged British detective (Jonathan P. Finn-Gamino ’12)—attempt to solve the mystery of the Maharajah’s murder and prevent the Queen from placing the people of India under her authoritarian rule.
At least for the more coherent first act, long-time HPT director Tony Parise adeptly juggles these overlapping storylines. In a show that must not only balance the demands of these varying characters but also provide a constant stream of jokes, however, a large part of the credit for the success of “Kashmir If You Can” must go to the writers, Gus T. Hickey ’11 and David J. “DJ” Smolinsky ’11. As the story dashes haphazardly between several subplots, romances, and an entirely irrelevant song about threesomes, the writing remains consistently funny; the script is packed with double-entendres, bad puns, and cheap pop-culture cracks in astonishing density. Lines like “I don’t see any virgins here—am I at Wellesley?” and “Are you having second thoughts? Because you rarely have first thoughts, so this is a big step for you!” have the audience in nearly constant stitches. Of course, many of the jokes are throwaways—“OMG ... Oh my Ganesha!”—but the cast delivers each line with such panache that even the silliest moments are effective.
The ensemble performs their multifaceted duties with remarkable professionalism. Singing, dancing, and verbal and physical comedy are equally emphasized, and equally well-realized, a major accomplishment for any production. Perhaps the best example of this synthesis is the self-censor-deficient Cherry Poppins, who sings about losing her virginity and delivers lines like “something isn’t sitting right with me either ... probably my inflamed hemorrhoids” entirely straight-faced. Queen Latikah combines her devilish schemes with grotesquely exaggerated facial expressions. Her daughter’s low-class lover Kareem Inyourpants (Ryan P. Halprin ’12) complements earnest silliness with a clear, strong singing voice, with which he croons in the title number, “We can leave without a trace / We’ll be undercover like an Arab girl’s face.” For all these talents, however, “Kashmir If You Can” is held together primarily by the cast’s supreme confidence and enthusiasm, without which the whole show would collapse under the weight of its utter ridiculousness.
Not all stereotypes are created equal, however, and a couple of secondary characters fall a bit flat. Pooch Yermoneywhereyourmouthis is limited mostly to weak canine jokes—though he does have an excellent rap sequence—and an Elvis-impersonating Vishnu (Jonathan K. Stevens ’14) feels tired. This is no fault of the actors, who throw themselves into the roles with abandon, but the increasing prominence of these characters as “Kashmir If You Can” progresses contributes to the lagging second act.
Other factors also play a role in the show’s loss of focus. The proliferation of subplots, including a romance between the British detective and Cherry Poppins and Vishnu’s quest to get his ‘mojo’ back, scatters the storyline. The audience is dragged from scene to unrelated scene with little explanation—hardly a fatal flaw for an absurdist comedy, but disorienting nonetheless. The writers eventually embrace the chaos, and in classic HPT style the show ends with an impeccably choreographed kickline featuring the entire cast. Thankfully, the high-quality acting and still-plentiful jokes keep the show from degenerating too far.
Supported by a very competent orchestra and elaborate, frequently changing backdrops, the cast carries “Kashmir If You Can” to impressive comic heights. With catchy tunes like “Pop the Question”—in which Cherry tells her detective lover she will “get down on both knees so [he’ll] get down on one”—thrown into the mix, “Kashmir If You Can” is a hard proposition to resist.
—Staff writer Daniel K. Lakhdhir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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